The hoards of the hip London youth were descending upon Camden, while this is hardly unusual, tonight it was for a special occasion. Current indie sacred-cows Animal Collective were playing the Roundhouse. The band have just released a moderately well received album, Centipede Hz (their ninth) and anticipation seemed to be high for their performance. Personally I was tentatively excited, Animal Collective have an inconsistent live reputation and my last experience with them had been a boring, self-indulgent performance that I had little interest in seeing again. That said, unlike many, I really enjoy their latest album and was excited to see how it would sound live.

First though, in the lovely venue that is The Roundhouse, Prince Rama were on stage. It's tempting just to dismiss Prince Rama as a poor man's Gang Gang Dance and those tempted wouldn't exactly be wrong. Musically the group seem very formulaic, it feels as if we've heard their rhythmic, electronically driven sound enough times that it no longer feels special. That said Prince Rama follow their particular formula very well. Their rhythms are free-form and hypnotic and underpin their psychedelic soundscape pleasingly.

However the groups greatest strength comes from their ability to have fun on stage. The band never stopped moving and dancing in their own weird little way. They frequently interacted with the audience and just generally seemed to be having a great time up there. Their lengthy foray into dancing amid the audience was ill-advised in the large space that is the roundhouse as it simply meant that the vast majority of the crowd could not see most of what was going on. The bright colours, shapes and sounds that the band provided were more than enough, however, to keep the audience happily engaged till the arrival of Animal Collective.

When Animal Collective did arrive, upon their glorious 'mouth-framed' set, it quickly became clear that they were going to be in fine form tonight. Starting, for the first five or so songs purely with material from the new album the group demonstrated that not only do these songs have a real quality but that they work especially well in the live sphere. It's rare to find an album that genuinely does work better played live, but Centipede Hz is a strong example of one. It has a power and a swelling sound that just seems to get bigger and bigger. Each song seemed brighter and more alive. Songs that on record were boring were given new life in this live setting. The band's vocals were strong throughout, beautiful and tuneful often but also harsh and weird when it was needed. There's little more impressive than Avery Tare's yelping voice in it's full power.


Part of this sudden strength was the improvisation and experimentation with their material that is a core part of the live Animal Collective experience. The band are never content with simply playing their songs as they appears on record. They like to chop and change, add long sections of noise, delay choruses and repeat the best parts of a song endlessly. The group also have a habit of trying to disguise the introductions to their best known songs by making them slowly take shape out of a maelstrom of unrelated noise. On a bad day this approach can be extremely frustrating. Why can't the group just play their songs as I want to hear them, rather than adding in all this tedious rubbish? On a good day however, such as this performance, the effect is magical. You begin to see the band's songs in whole new ways, forgotten segments are magnified and you gain a new appreciation for the material. Who wants to hear songs played as you've heard them a hundred times before on record? Isn't it better to hear a song played in a new way you've never heard before and never will again?

While I did enjoy the new material, Animal Collective only ascended into gig of the gear territory when they began to air some old favourites. 'Brother Sport' was especially impressive, with the entire audience either dancing or compulsively bobbing up and down. It was great to hear 'Peacebone' played again and who can really complain about an encore containing 'My Girls'? If I had to complain about the set list, and I do, I'd ask why 'For Reverend Green' never seems to be played any more. It's probably the best song the band have produced and it's disappointing to never get to hear it live.


The group could be accused of occasionally being a bit po-faced and serious, especially after the fun-fest that was Prince Rama but they managed to let their hair down just enough throughout the performance to show that they still have an impish side. It's impossible to describe their performance as perfect, there were occasionally boring bits when their experimentation went on slightly too long. However when the band were good they wowed me, and the majority of the audience, in a speechless happy stupor. They demonstrated that they are still a live force to be reckoned with and they demand to be seen.