You may never have heard of Avey Tare, but chances are if you’re even somewhat a connoisseur of indie music or have ever read an alternative music blog, you probably know more about him than you think. To anyone familiar with his other work—as a member of celebrated indie juggernaut Animal Collective, as an actor in and contributor to “visual album” ODDSAC, as a collaborator with ex-wife Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir (best known as the frontwoman of Icelandic band múm)—nothing about his solo show should have seemed unusual.
Avey Tare (real name Dave Portner) brought a more complex stage setup than most artists that grace the Triple Rock stage, and it helped to establish the creepy-cool-in-a-sort-of-awkward-way tone that is notable in his work. Expected electronic instruments littered a table covered in a white sequined tablecloth, his drum machine wrapped in purple fabric. Behind the table dangled a perplexingly ominous Yoda skeleton, and baby crocodiles were placed around the instruments. Portner has a self-professed crocodile obsession, a motif that not only showed up visually but is also present in the murkiness and melancholy of Down There, his first solo effort which he was in town to support.
But besides the literal reptilian influence, other aspects of Portner’s musical persona were present as well. He is sometimes referred to as the frontman of Animal Collective (which seems strange given the rampant popularity of its other vocalist, Panda Bear, whose solo career is twice as long and arguably twice as successful), and for this reason I think he’s more appropriately considered Animal Collective’s hype man—the one with all the personality responsible for engaging the audience (unlike Panda Bear, who in my opinion is kind of a snooze).
As the music jolted back and forth between upbeat and drudging, he frantically bounced up and down, rolling his head around like he was possessed and wagging his shaggy hair in the dim light like some kind of swamp beast. If you’ve seen Animal Collective live or watched ODDSAC (that’s ol’ Mr. Tare covered in the pink glitter with the George Washington wig), you know he’s the goofy one sort of believably losing his mind right in front of you. Even watch the video for Animal Collective’s hit single “My Girls” where the three band members’ facial features are obscured through animation—you can tell which one is Avey Tare because only one of them seems to be, for lack of a better way to say it, dancing like no one’s watching.
The show wasn’t just visually eccentric—when the initial base beat dropped in, the first few rows of standing audience members actually ducked because it was so shockingly abrasive. Add to that microphone reverb, intermittent sceaming, recorded samples of the artist mumbling creepy things about skulls and the like, percussive groans, humming, and amelodic moaning—basically anything that if you happened to hear him do while absentmindedly listening to his iPod on a bus, might make him seem rather insane—and it definitely wasn’t a “comfortable” experience.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t really, really good, though, or to suggest that Avey Tare’s primary motive was showmanship. Each song seemed expertly crafted; as Avey Tare hunched over his machinery he looked more like he was intently playing some kind of very unusual, complicated video game rather than curating a crazy electronic jam session, all the mismatched and unconventional layers coming together to make something really interesting and artful. And perhaps discomfort is exactly what Portner wanted us to feel; he recorded Down There as a response to his divorce with Valtýsdóttir, and recent interviews have suggested that dealing with the fallout of the breakup (plus other commitments with Animal Collective) are the reason he’s just now touring in support of it even though it was released in October 2010. As you listen to the album and experience the live show, you can feel the unfortunately familiar anxiety and mania elicited by those types of situations.
Though Avey Tare’s tour was brief (by the time this goes to press it will probably be over), if he returns with a second solo album and a (hopefully more timely) tour, it’d be worth checking out his live show if you get the chance. You can always catch him with Animal Collective, but there’s something valuable about seeing the edgiest, arguably most ostentatious member venture out into the darkness on his own.
Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Collaborative.