Panda Bear Confronts His Mortality at Thalia Hall 5/21
(Photo Credit: Gabriela Porras)
Last evening the beautiful Thalia Hall, located in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, unveiled it's stage for it's first performance since the 1960's. I arrived early to enjoy all the three-floor venue had to offer, which included a restaurant/bar on the ground level floor, an alcoholic punch bar in the basement and a beautifully restored concert hall on the third floor. While my main objective was to see Panda Bear play songs from his forthcoming album, tentatively and reminiscently titled like a Scientist album, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, it would be criminal to overlook the wonderful venue's accommodations.
Arriving a few hours early I saddled up to the bar on the main floor, which was occupied by 3 of the most easy-going, yet professional bartenders I've ever met. Oddly enough the topic of conversation between myself, the 3 nearby patrons and the bar staff was Milwaukee. Despite my general inclination to vilify Chicago whenever possible I found myself strangely at home with these Chicagoans who all spoke so surprisingly well of Milwaukee. Amidst laughs, the spouting of Milwaukee tourism recommendations and a few beers my distaste for Chicago (which admittedly is largely rooted in the car-towing debacle of 2010) began to subside. Eventually my partner in crime and I moved down the steps into the punch lounge, a dimly lit, nautically themed bar, soundtracked by golden-era hip-hop. I'm inclined to say that this place was tailored specifically to my passions, considering the hip-hop and the punch, which was masterfully curated for the tastebuds of only the most sophisticated of pirates, like myself. Just to give you an idea of what wizardry happens down there, one of the concoctions I ordered involved a precise alchemy of c ajun spiced rum, amaro, elderflower, lime and peychauds. Shout out to our server Hannah, you're an elegant human being.
While I could gush over Thalia Hall's entire aesthetic ad nauseam I was there to see one of the most brilliant artists of our time. Unfortunately he was preceded by DJ Dog Dick, a skid mark on an otherwise great evening, who incessantly clutched his crotch and pretended to ejaculate on “everyone talking” during his set. Admittedly the crowd's general disdain for DJ Dog Dick made his set enjoyable for me, in a perverted way that I think he intentionally facilitates. The juxtaposition of Panda Bear's heady beauty and DJ Dog Dick's noisy rap music, that in essence wants to confront and be in conflict with convention and popular culture, was a nice attempt to acknowledge the silly classifications of art. But ultimately DJ Dog Dick seems like he's finally, and unfortunately, moved from being a self-aware parody to believing that his art is as significant and avante-garde as overly-analytical internet think pieces would lead you to believe.
Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) came out shortly after, his set-up consisting of a podium filled with what appeared to be a sampler, a mixing board, roughly a dozen cords and a microphone. Behind him there was a projection backdrop that began playing a video specially made for Lennox's current tour by visual artist Danny Perez (who worked with Animal Collective on their film ODDSAC). The projected film oscillated in a kaleidoscopic fashion between snakes, apes, cranberries, naked women with Día de Muertos face paint and a few other trippy visuals for the majority of the show, until towards the encore when a skull-faced man, presumably the grim reaper, appeared in a red, shimmering hooded robe with a stuffed panda bear cradled in his arms.
While this figure obviously stemmed from Lennox's new album's tentative title, it did far more than assure us of the albums name. Playing almost entirely new material (much to the dismay of two drunk dudes in the bathroom) a lot of which will be considered his most rhythmic and dance friendly yet, Lennox's sound was noticeably more upbeat, which was odd considering that most of the visuals suggested Panda Bear's confrontation with his mortality. Although it is extremely premature to elucidate a theme or statement from Lennox's new material, especially considering how ambiguous his lyrics tend to be, I nonetheless had plenty food for thought. Like was death employed to symbolize a sonic rebirth for the Panda Bear moniker? Were the upbeat rhythms meant to engage suffering/death with the Nietzschean exclamation of “Thus I Willed It!”?
While a lot of emphasis has been placed on Lennox's new sonic direction, the most memorable moment of the evening was not due to his newfound employment of break-beats or up-tempo progressions, rather it was Lennox's alluring, confident voice that enchanted the audience; most memorably during the hymn-like “Can't Come Back” (as named by the Animal Collective forum community) where Lennox's voice resonated with pangs of sorrowful longing that were all the more pronounced over the minimalist harp loop that fluttered in the background. Other stand-outs “Dark Cloud” which contains Lennox half rapping staccato-ed syllables and the funky, synth powered “Principe Real” (both tentative titles) epitomized the new dancier aspects of Lennox's sound and had me grooving in the rear of the venue.
After playing through a set of entirely new material, outside of Tomboy -era leftover “The Preakness” (which got issued on a cassette for Keep shoes and the album's box-set) Lennox played a three song encore consisting of “Last Night at The Jetty”, “Scheherazade” and “Surfer Hymn” from 2011's Tomboy . As the encore unfurled, the grim reaper reappeared on the screen behind Lennox and began ripping apart the stuffed panda bear, making one thing very clear: Lennox isn't interested in stagnated sound, he wants to move forward and is brilliant enough do so by stripping down his sound.
Below is "Principe Real" and a large portion of last nights show in HD, thanks to some beautiful soul.