Panda Bear at Chicago’s Thalia Hall (5/21)

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Panda Bear is the alias used by experimental musician Noah Lennox of Animal Collective, Jane and Together. He plays drums during Animal Collective’s live shows. He chose the name Panda Bear because he drew a picture of a panda on one of the first recordings he made. He is married and lives in Lisbon, Portugal with his wife and child, Nadja. He and Avey Tare are the only members who have contributed to every Animal Collective release.

Bio from Wikipedia’s article on Panda Bear

Categories: Music | Alternative

 

Right now, based on what he’s delivering with his new live set, here’s what we can expect from Noah Lennox’s forthcoming fourth album, tentatively – and so, so misleadingly – entitled Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. This is the most rhythmically seductive and consistently uplifting music Lennox has ever made as a solo artist – or otherwise, if not for a little Animal Collective album called Merriweather Post Pavillion.

If his formal 2004 debut Young Prayer set out to stretch the role of the human voice, and 2011’s Tomboy did the same for the electric guitar, and his 2007 generally-agreed-upon-masterpiece Person Pitch challenged (obliterated) the thought that borrowed samples can’t construct an individual voice, then here, Lennox only wants to warp our mindset of what ingredients are essential for songs to register as really, really good pop music. There’s no other necessary term for the hour of new material Lennox is currently rolling out.

Lennox, with and outside of Animal Collective, has mainly used live shows for newly written material, last night being no exception, save for a three-song (guitar-less) Tomboy encore. This might be the best it’s ever gone over with audiences on the first round. The fourth song of his set, possibly called “Black Cloud”, is all sunshine and finds his looped voice agilely jumping octaves over a 2/4 beat that aims for “My Girls”-caliber happy feet. Though it’s likely his strongest of 10 or so new songs – maybe, just maybe ever – there was one in the middle of his set, a sighing pace-slower with mimicked harp arpeggios possibly called “Can’t Come Back”, that drew the strongest crowd reaction, by far.

Animal Collective visual collaborator Danny Perez was on hand to man the graphics swimming on the screen behind Lennox, who remained stationary pretty much all night. Amidst typical Perez bits – fruits, snakes, chromatic shapes and patterns – the only non-cryptic one was a clip of the Grim Reaper taking a stuffed panda bear, ripping its head off, and tearing it to shreds. Despite the new album’s working title, it went up during the Tomboy encore, over “Scheherazade”. Lennox signed off by thanking Perez and his crew by name and giving a genuine endorsement to Thalia Hall, a 124-year-old performance space and national landmark (with a tavern now, too) in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood that he was also there to christen: He was its first headliner upon reopening for the first time since the 1960s.

Are panda bears cuddly as fuck? Duh. But does that mean we know them? They’re still weird creatures that live and thrive on far-away landmass and tend to eat an odd stick-shaped vegetable. Noah Lennox happens to possess both the gold-toned vocal cords and the melodic ear of Brian Wilson, but the way he puts them to work aims to show that a natural Beach Boy can be anything but familiar. Again, he’s succeeding.