Live review: Panda Bear

Heaven, London Thursday, March 11

His stage name might be that of a fluffy, poorly evolved and undersexed creature, but Noah Lennox’s balls really must be the size of a rhino’s. Though their minds may be gallantly open tonight, Panda’s fans are ultimately here to lose themselves in the ecstatic fug of his ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’-shaping album ‘Person Pitch’. A terrific re-run of The Beach Boys for a post-rave generation, it was so kaleidoscopic it sent anyone with synaesthesia into a tailspin. But, true to the spirit of his awkward and counter-instinctive power animal, he won’t be playing anything from that tonight. Well, aside from one song that no-one was much cared about anyway (the suitably titled ‘I’m Not’).

Gone are the days when kids would riot at gigs if bands had the temerity to try out a new barre chord, but still… To play a rare, massively anticipated date, fill it with new songs and moreover, to begin such a challenge with the brutally stark cold wave of ‘Drone’ (an icy two-note synth piece Lennox mostly yelps through), would give most performers the willies. At the very least they’d expect to lose sizeable chunks of their audience.

But this is a man whose solo debut, ‘Young Prayer’, was a devotional to his dead dad, featuring little more than a pained yowling. Lennox’s improvising ways with [a]Animal Collective[/a] have prepared us well for his method. It’s fine. However hard and bloody the beating, he always bears gifts, after all.

After ‘Drone’ comes the title track from upcoming album ‘Tomboy’. Helmed by an EBM beat and grunge guitar, it’s not pretty but, like the opener, it displays a new weapon: urgency. Everything tonight is tinted with this compelling aggression, from Aphex-like glitch to the jetplane intro of ‘Benfica’. It’s a refreshing antidote to his now much-copied woozy, washed-out sound.

But even if he’s turning a huffy shoulder on the chillwave blog love-in of his stylistic descendents, Panda’s knack for squeezing colour from melody means we don’t have to wait long for his opening to grow into something sublime. ‘Surfers’ Hymn’ twinkles with looped electronics and juju guitar, ‘Last Night At The Jetty’ sees him turn into a leftfield Julie Andrews, while ‘Bullseye’, with its psychedelic G-funk groove, could be the catchiest thing he’s ever done. No fluffy-wuffy laurel-resting to be found here, then; this thrilling reacquaintance proves that Panda Bear takes to this evolving lark better than you might think.

Chris Parkin

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