The first sound of Avey Tare’s set Wednesday night at U Street Music Hall was a horrible and grating squelch of noise. Dozens of people in the sold-out club recoiled involuntarily from the beastly blast. The Animal Collective member, and one of the band’s two primary vocalists, may not have planned the startling intro, but it definitely grabbed everyone’s attention. The rest of his 45-minute set was an exercise in slowly but surely losing it.
With Animal Collective, Avey Tare and his three band mates excel at taking psychedelic flourishes, multi-part vocal chants, pulsing rhythms and all sorts of other intriguing aural ephemera and twisting them into unlikely pop confections. On his own, many of those important pieces were missing. Standing behind an array of samplers, keyboards and other electronic gizmos, Avey Tare (Baltimore-area native Dave Portner) presented a set of songs that offered little more than murky, punishingly repetitive rhythms. The best Animal Collective songs are transportive, allowing listeners to reach a higher plain. Avey Tare’s songs made you feel as if you were being pounded into the ground.
Comparisons to his main band are both unavoidable and impossible to overcome, but the set was simply too lacking in dynamic moments. There was plenty of new material (a given for a member of a band that sees an album release as the end, not the beginning of a cycle) and some reworked tunes from Avey Tare’s 2010 grower of a solo album, “Down There,” most of them congealing into a impenetrable block of trebly muck. An exception was “3 Umbrellas,” which featured a lilting lightness, playfully yelped vocals and some welcome zigs and zags instead of the monotonous rumble. But as Avey Tare bent over his instruments the only thing to really focus on was the creepy Yoda doll propped up behind him.
By the end of the 45 minutes, the performance was mostly a blur, the only memorable aspects being that painful initial blast of noise and the face of Yoda gazing serenely at the crowd from the back of the stage. A disappointing show, it was.