Animal Collective/Lionshare @ The Portland Arms, Cambridge
(October 20th 2003)


The Animal Collective? Lionshare? Has Dr Dolittle been slipping copies of Socialist Worker into the hands, hoofs, wings and fins of his furry, hairy, feathered and scaly friends? Is this the first, historic, night of a beastly uprising? Are we witnessing the birth of a new pressure group, the Fauna Fighters? 


It’s just a namely coincidence. What these bands share is not a desire to overthrow the humans and run the farm themselves, but the desire to make intense music for themselves first, and then me and you. 

Lionshare start with just Simon, a guitar and a very large cowboy hat. He softly strums dark country tunes and imagines that he’s a high plains drifter coated in the dust of day’s hard trail from one arsehole town to another. He grimaces like Clint Eastwood staring at the sun. His eyes in are deep in the shade of the outsize brim of the outsize hat but I know he’s squinting too. He means it, hombre. These songs are true when he sings them. And if he can’t walk it like he talks it, that’s only because there’s precious little purple sage around Cambridge. 

He’s joined by a cellist who adds chilly depth with long strokes of noir and short scrapes of tension. A drummer and bassist fill the band and the sound out, halfway between Neil Young’s Harvest and Neil Young’s Dead Man. “We don’t rehearse much” Simon says, pausing as if wondering why not, “there’s just no point.” He’s right and they build on the natural simplicity with repetition and repetition, instinctively playing off each other and teasing every last drop out of the tunes. 

The Animal Collective couldn’t be more different. Their non-stop half-hour set is perfectly rehearsed, but it looks like the pair have never met before. A guitar each, a box of effects each and a couple of microphones each, they sit either side of the stage and sing, shout, beatbox, scream and hoot alternately into a mic run through the effects or a mic with no effects. They strum, slap and slash at their guitars and occasionally beat at the single snare drum dividing the stage in two. Are they playing the same song, or different songs, or different bits of the same song? It’s a mess, then it’s a beautiful mess, then it’s just beautiful. And then it’s a mess and then it’s a beautiful mess and then it’s just beautiful.  

Syd Barrett, some have said, is the inspiration. But he never had a twin to bounce off like this. Even he, for all that he could do with a few unchords, a naf melody and a bunch of jumbled sense nonsense words, even he could never play two guitars at once and simultaneously accompany himself by squawking like a monkey. Even he could never wash over himself like the tide over sand, surging and breaking and merging and falling away. Two songs or one? A mess or a beautiful mess? One. A beautiful mess.  

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