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LIVE: A Defense of “Tomboy”: Panda Bear, Ducktails at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (7/3/2011)

By Kyle MacKinnel; photos © Diana Wong on July 11, 2011


LIVE: A Defense of “Tomboy”: Panda Bear, Ducktails at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (7/3/2011)

Panda Bear and Ducktails
Music Hall of Williamsburg (Brooklyn, New York)
July 3, 2011

“Get your head out of those mags and websites that try to shape your style/Take a risk just for yourself and wade into the deep end of the ocean.”—Panda Bear, “Carrots”

Just under one year ago, I had the opportunity to see Noah Lennox play the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago for his first in a limited string of U.S. Panda Bear shows. The conditions were perfect: a calm summer breeze, a tangerine background eclipsed by the Union Park stage, and a buzzing sea of heads on hand to witness the primary live incarnation of Tomboy (domestically, anyways). A no-brainer golden show opportunity, yes? This writer sure thought so. From the endless whirrs of “Drone” to the unstoppable beat of “Tomboy” to the vocal crests of “Last Night at the Jetty,” I found the entire show incredibly inspiring. 

Not everyone felt this way. It struck me as odd that patches of the crowd seemed almost silent as Lennox played. A couple of days later, many reviews surrounding the festival described Panda Bear’s set as odd and even disappointing. Meanwhile, others were glowing and hailed the performance as revelatory. Perhaps fueled by the impossible tsunami of praise that Person Pitch garnered on its release, a glaring disconnect had formed among the people regarding Panda’s newest musical direction. Later on, when Tomboy finally dropped in April, reviews were respectful but certainly restrained, and even lackluster given all the hype. Still, I found it to be yet another groundbreaking record tied to Lennox—an instant album of the year candidate. I began formulating such arrogant hypotheses as: “Tomboy is simply ahead of its time, and its brilliance won’t be truly heralded for another couple of decades.” The question firmly remained: What gives?

This past Sunday in Brooklyn painted a very different picture of the whole perplexing scene. The fireworks were primed as Panda Bear and Ducktails got ready to play the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Having experienced the anticipation of the P4K set, I can say that the charge running through this crowd struck me as much more confident than in Chicago last summer. Resoundingly positive vibes.

Matt Mondanile of Ducktails took the stage, backed by his Ridgewood, NJ bros from Big Troubles, and began sailing through breezy cuts off of Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics, along with a couple of new tracks. It was incredibly gratifying to watch these guys onstage, not only because they play very, very well, but because they seem to be having the most fun ever. Some highlights included “Hamilton Road,” “Don’t Make Plans,” and “Art Vandelay.” Mondanile would often spiral into mini guitar freak-outs to punctuate the end of several songs. An especially awesome moment came during the musical interludes that splice the verses of “Killin The Vibe,” where Mondanile appeared to be grooving straight out of his skull into the atmosphere.

As Panda Bear took the stage, the buzz had reached palpable heights. A major factor in this was the presence of Pete Kember (a.k.a. Sonic Boom), who helped mix Tomboy, and would provide aural manipulations for the set amid an elaborate altar of wires and equipment. Lennox began with a freeform, Gregorian intro to “You Can Count on Me” that sounded for a beat like it could have been a brand new track. This extended seamlessly into the entirety of Tomboy, track by track, without interruption. “Tomboy,” with its surging, viral beat proved a glorious piece of kindling. “Surfer’s Hymn” was uplifting, and crowd’s sway mirrored its hopeful spirit. Speaking of the energy in the room, it bore no resemblance to the puzzled query/intrigue of the audience in Chicago. This crew acquiesced to be lifted, honing in on the gigantic musical exchange going down on this night in Brooklyn.

All of a sudden, someone coming down the stairs bumped into me. “Sorry, dude,” said the voice to my right. It was none other than Matt Mondanile, watching Panda’s set with Alex Bleeker. And these two guys from none other than Real Estate (!) were just as engaged in Lennox’s sermon as anyone else in the room. Later, Mondanile would have the following to say about the show, via e-mail:

“I think the Panda Bear set was really something special, especially since he was performing with Sonic Boom who mixed Tomboy. The visuals, in combination with the performance, was probably one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. Everyone I talked to really felt inspired and excited afterwards.”

I concur. Kember’s resounding production on top of the swirling stage projections on top of Lennox pouring every drop of his soul into singing “Jetty” or “Alsatian Darn” or “Afterburner” made for quite the live experience indeed. When the final looped shimmers of “Benfica” faded, Panda Bear extended his set with the live favorites “Ponytail,” and “Comfy in Nautica.” And then, it was Independence Day.

So to answer the questioned posed earlier on, who gives a fuck what music writers think? The words written in this review or in any other mean infinitely less than the opinion borne in your own mind (though you should probably listen to Matt Mondanile—he’s a cool dude). I’m sure that anyone who was at the show in Williamsburg would attest that it was nothing less than an extraordinary experience. Reality has absolutely nothing to do with hype—there’s only you and a single moment to make the most of. So why not navigate away from this page and go listen to a record or plan your next show? Do it. Do it now.

All photos © Diana Wong

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