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BEING THERE: Avey Tare @ PhilaMOCA

Avey Tare-3219

Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

David Portner – a.k.a. Avey Tare – is best known for being one of the founding members of freak folk/noise rock/experimental pop outfit Animal Collective. He met his Animal brethren in high school, and has since laid down some of the most otherworldly recordings this side of the Milky Way – although, to be honest, I have my suspicions that they may have come from someplace much farther out. And while his music takes on such extraterrestrial qualities in both his contributions to Animal Collective and in his eponymous solo project, his diverse instrumentation and melodies have at the same time always been earthy and organic. This dichotomy is part of what fascinates me about Avey Tare’s sound, and I think it’s why people fall in love with Animal Collective. In recent years, the band’s sound has lost that earthiness as they’ve consistently delved deeper into experimental electronic bubblegum. As a long-time Animal Collective fan, I’ve found that Avey Tare’s sound is closer to classic AnCo than the full band is in its current creative state. And for that reason, I implore any nostalgic fans to go see Avey Tare on his current U.S. tour.

In support of his latest album, Cows on Hourglass Pond, released on March 22nd, Avey Tare is on tour as a trio, as opposed to his usual solo gig. Joining him are fellow Animal, Deakin (guitar, keys, bass), and Jeremy Hyman (drums) of the art rock group, Ponytail. The three come together to put on a powerful live performance – especially owing to the musical simpatico between Avey Tare and Deakin. I caught them on Saturday at the intimate PhilaMOCA.

A beautiful solo performance by opening act Nathan Bowles, on banjo and occasional vocals, gently eased the audience’s ears into listening mode. He didn’t sing much, but nobody would’ve complained if he had – the man’s got pipes. I would call his musical style Eastern-influenced Americana. It’s folky, it’s meditative. Good stuff.

But then Avey Tare came on.

It was like being whisked into another world. I watched from the balcony as the trio psychedelically eased into the set, which was mostly songs off of the new record. I distinctly recall the cracking open of beer cans respectfully between songs – and there was a lot of it, as PhilaMOCA’s a BYOB joint packed with Pabst-slinging hipsters. I’m more of a Yuengling guy myself, but I opted to stick with water for the evening.

As the show went on, and as the songs got groovier, more and more of the once-stiff crowd succumbed to modest dancing-in-place. I, for one, couldn’t help myself. Cows has some really danceable tunes, like the jazzy “Eyes on Eyes” and the bouncy “Saturdays (Again),” both of which were even better live than they are on the album – and that’s saying something. I hate to say this, but I just haven’t been satisfied with the last few AnCo albums; Avey Tare, though, has done justice to their legacy with the music he keeps making, and seeing him play his own material live with Deakin only strengthened the AnCo vibes of the show. The two were interwoven in their musicianship as they traded instruments multiple times – Avey Tare on bass at one point, with Deakin on guitar, as well as both playing each other’s guitar. I hear that Avey Tare’s vocals are often hit or miss in live settings, which is understandable considering his strenuous, experimental vocal style, but I assure you: this time, it was a hit.

Saturday having been the warmest day of the year in Philly so far, the air-conditioning-less PhilaMOCA reached sweltering conditions, and toward the end of the show, the room was almost as hot as a Swans concert. After notifying the audience that he only had a couple songs left – stressing “just a couple” – Avey Tare added, “It’s a hot room.” I’m glad it wasn’t just my poor choice of taking a balcony position, but I hope it won’t stop AT from coming back. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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