Panda Bear / Geologist Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, May 2
Published May 03, 2018Panda doesn't pander. His 2007 solo album, Person Pitch, was an instant blog classic thanks to its Brian Wilson harmonies and summery proto-chillwave sweetness, but the musician born Noah Lennox has spent most of the past decade enamoured with swampier sounds. He still knows his way around a pop melody, but these days, it comes doused in dark lyrics and a goop of weirdo synths.
For his latest Toronto appearance, he brought along his Animal Collective bandmate Geologist, whose opening set was an experimental collage of air-raid sirens, bass blasts and click-clacking electro-acoustic grooves. Donning his signature headlamp, he distilled all of the weirdest elements of Animal Collective into a disorienting sound collage.
Panda Bear's headlining set was only marginally more accessible. Starting with the dive-bombing tones of "Nod to the Folks," the opening tune gradually swelled with harsh industrial beats resembling the Beach Boys gone cyber-goth. Panda Bear remained glued to his rack of samplers, headphones strapped to his head, with glitchy psychedelic visuals displayed across three large screens on the backdrop.
The jarring beginning set the tone for a set that was heavy on deep cuts and selections from this year's A Day with the Homies. Considering that the new EP is only available on vinyl, it's likely that much of the audience wasn't familiar with the material, which perhaps explains why most crowd members were polite, but not exactly rapturously enthusiastic.
Lennox threw in a handful of numbers from 2015's Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, plus the meditative "You Can Count on Me" from 2011's Tomboy, but he almost entirely avoided his best-known material. He didn't play anything from Person Pitch, and it wasn't until an encore rendition of "Boys Latin" that he touched on one of the true pinnacles of his studio work.
It was a dizzying display of experimental pop that was consistently intriguing and occasionally revelatory. Still, considering that the back of the room had noticeably thinned out by the time the encore wrapped up, it was hard not to feel like the warmth that used to be central to Panda's sound was missing.