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May 28- June 3, 2009
buzz@boulderweekly.com

• Noah’s ark
Noah Lennox leads the psychedelic musicians
by Adam Perry


• Classical experiments
MinTze Wu challenges conventions with a new local concert series
by Adam Trask


Noah’s ark
Noah Lennox leads the psychedelic musicians
of Animal Collective
by Adam Perry

Apparently, interviewing the most famous member of the most interesting band on the planet is harder than I thought. There’s this thing called a “phone card” for conversations between the U.S. and Europe, and I didn’t have one, so the details of my pending interview with Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox of Animal Collective will have to wait until it actually happens. However, I did learn that we have a few things in common.

Noah Lennox went to high school in Pennsylvania, as did I. Noah Lennox went to college outside Pennsylvania just after high school and then dropped out, as did I. But now I’m back in school, finishing my degree, whereas Noah Lennox founded the world-renowned experimental rock band Animal Collective and now lives in Lisbon, Portugal, with his wife and baby girl when he isn’t either touring with that band or as Panda Bear.

Formed at the turn of the millennium around Baltimore and New York by childhood friends Lennox and Josh Dibb (“Deakin”), who teamed up with David Portner (“Avey Tare”) and Brian Weitz (“Geologist”), Animal Collective released a slew of extraordinarily weird and boundless, freak-folky, mostly home-recorded records under three different names (Avey Tare and Panda Bear; Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist; Campfire Songs) before finally releasing the chilling/enticing Here Comes The Indian as Animal Collective in 2003. With the release of 2004’s lush, diverse and brilliant Sung Tongs — an incredible collection of simultaneously haunting and alluring, disturbing and adorable acoustic guitar and swelling-vocal trips strangely treated with “many” overdubs of drums, vocals and electronics — Animal Collective became an underground sensation that’s now exploded house-hold-name style with more song-oriented full-length noise-pop releases — Feels (2005), Strawberry Jam (2007) and Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) — that have been called some of the best albums of this decade.

For newcomers, a great introduction to Animal Collective is “Infant Dressing Table” from Here Comes the Indian. Relative silence (tempered with an incoherent, murmuring background voice) grows louder and is joined by expanding Eno-esque synthesizers, incessant (but subtle) buzzing; various peripheral percussive noises appear underneath Merry Prankster-type vocal exercises and gorgeous free-form chanting that ostensibly leads back to Panda Bear’s days in his high school chamber choir, but most likely also relates to the band’s notorious use of psychedelics.

At its apex, “Infant Dressing Room” (like many tracks on Animal Collective’s breakthrough Sung Tongs, partly recorded in Colorado) brings all of the band’s love of weird percussion, vocals and synthesizers to a beautiful boil that (depending on your point of view) is either so other-worldly magnificent and enrapturing that it makes the use of recreational drugs moot or so entrancing that it makes Spiritualized’s famous motto “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to” affective and accurate for at least another decade. Animal Collective is infamous for the use of psychedelics such as Salvia in the recording studio, not to mention trips to South America to find and use rare psychedelics, so drug use and Animal Collective aren’t exactly separate, but exactly what effect drugs have had on the band’s music might have to wait for an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music.

At any rate, via more recent standout tracks like “Peacebone,” “Fireworks,” “Street Flash” and “My Girls,” Animal Collective has effectively morphed their previously homemade (sometimes campfire-made) experimental early recordings into ingenious, poetic ’60s-inspired noise-pop with a tinge of New Order providing levity and bounce. “Did You See The Words” from Feels is a personal favorite of mine; how it somehow links early Pink Floyd with the Mothers of Invention and Black Flag in an original and contemporary way rubs me right. But newer Animal Collective tracks like “Also Frightened” are fitter and happier, though not more productive, depending which music geek you ask. Some longtime fans lament the band’s foray into more conventional (but equally creative) songwriting, but it’s just as easy to see enjoyable, danceable new Animal Collective tracks like “My Girls” as a profound part of the group’s substantial catalog. Plus, Merriweather Post has its share of exquisitely out-there moments anyway.

But getting back to Noah Lennox — the man is extremely busy. Along with lounging around in the elegance of Portugal and touring and recording with Animal Collective and alone (FYI: his debut Beach Boys-on-mescaline Panda Bear album Person Pitch is amazing), the vocalist, percussionist, sampler and guitarist also plays in the bands Jane and Together and has a line of sweatshirts called 2nd Things with his wife, the fashion designer Fernanda Pereira.

And co-frontman Avey Tare is no slouch either. Besides being an integral part of Animal Collective, the vocalist, guitarist, sampler, keyboardist and percussionist lives in New York City and is married to Kristín Anna Valtysdóttir (aka Kría Brekkan) — formerly of the legendarily stunning Icelandic band Mum — and put out an LP with her back in 2007 that was subsequently panned by Pitchfork (1.0/10), mostly because all the songs were backwards on the record.

Animal Collective is renowned for its intensely entrancing and explosive live shows, which are multimedia events with fantabulous lights and video, so Boulder is in for an exciting treat — especially when you consider that Animal Collective is selling out bigger venues in bigger cities worldwide. Just why they picked our little town might have to wait until I finally get my interview.

On the Bill
Animal Collective performs with Black Dice at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder,
303-786-7030.

Classical experiments
MinTze Wu challenges conventions with a new local concert series
by Adam Trask

These days, classical music rarely gets the red-carpet welcome and fruitcake reception from the general North American populace. It seems that the genre has been placed on a back burner, except for a small group of devotees and non-fans generating exposure courtesy of General Electric television ads and movie/television soundtracks.

However, Lyons, Colo., resident, world-renowned violinist and artistic contrarian MinTze Wu wants to bring classical music back to life and has dedicated a large chunk of time to the cause. It could not come from a better source. Her love of the classical format has been the impetus for the successful exploration of novel ways in bringing classical music and people together, as evidenced by her work as co-director of Gros Morne Summer Music in Newfoundland, Canada.

“Last summer, I pulled together this very daring program featuring a Latvian composer, [Peteris] Vasks,” Wu says. “Not many people know about him, but his music talks about the ecological imbalance — and there’s destruction to it. But, you know, it’s not a very easy music. You can’t lure people to go listen to Vasks because nobody knows who he is. So, I put together a program. In this program, I used three of his music [pieces]: ‘Landscape with Birds,’ a piano trio and another sonata for solo flute, and [a] percussionist who does soundscapes with flower pots and reciting a poem and junk metal.”

While some of these elements sound a bit off center for a classical concert, everything came together to create a unified, effective story. 

“In that program,” Wu explains, “you start out with a distressed bird anticipating an ominous future. We have the Earth waking up, and we have people going about the civilization, and then the junk metal exemplifies the destruction and the bird flies — that’s the solo flute. And then the trio finishes… [and] we’re finally confronted with the ‘What have we done?’ There was no narration, but somehow in the music, it painted this picture. It took people into this kind of realization throughout the 55 minutes of music.”

The program was not without its controversy.

“The other artistic director was very strongly against it, and he said even through we’re trying to break boundaries and be this and that, this is too risky. People are never going to get it,” Wu recalls. “But I begged him to just let me put the program on to see what would happen, and it was amazing. The teenagers, afterwards, came up to me and they felt like they could see exactly what happened. For me, up to this point [in] my life, it was probably one of the most memorable events because I felt that I had connected, not only myself to that music [and] others to the music, but to that composer.”

This weekend in Lyons, Wu — armed with her gentle, uncloaked confidence — is taking another sizable risk for the classical music word. This time she is combining the genre with literature in her continuing desire to introduce classical music to the masses and create a unique experience.

The festival, titled Sounds of Lyons, is a two-day event with three separate performances. The first concert on Saturday night, “Death of the Pugilist,” features a narrator and music performed by Wu and members of Telling Stories. The content, according to the bio, is based on the story of a longshoreman who becomes a celebrated boxer.

Two performances will follow on Sunday, with the concluding concert, “Passages,” enlisting the services of the Lyons High School Show Choir and the Lyons Community Choir.

“After being here for a while and being immersed in the culture here, in the folk music world here, I’ve realized there’s something I can offer to the community in bringing the classical music and this new attitude of exploration into the cultural scene here,” Wu says.

“The vision [of Sounds of Lyons] is really to make classical music something very impactful for people’s lives and close to people’s heart. We don’t just make music entertaining, but really [are involved in] engaging and enriching lives. So, for this first year, we’d like to put on the type of program that would interest people who might not [be] the usual concertgoer, but [would] be [interested] in coming to the festival.”

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On the Bill
Sounds of Lyons takes place on Saturday, May 30, at 8 p.m. at Roger Hall (4th and High streets), and on Sunday, May 31, at 4 p.m. at Lyons Community Church (350 Main, 303-823-6245) and 8 p.m. at Planet Bluegrass’s Wildflower Pavilion (500 W. Main St., 303-823-0848), soundsoflyons.com.

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