On September 16th I had the amazing opportunity to finally see Panda Bear live. Some friends and I drove downtown and arrived at The Jefferson in Charlottesville a little after the first opening band finished their set. From the outside I could not even tell The Jefferson was a concert venue, but as soon as I stepped inside its beauty overwhelmed me. There were elegant columns lining the walls and gorgeous light fixtures surrounding us. The front foyer, which was separate from the main stage area, was a beautiful entrance to stage and floor area. The hardwood floor and decorative interior made for an impressive stage area. I was looking forward to the experience of seeing such an experimental artist in such a classic venue. Much to my bemusement, Panda Bear did not disappoint.
Blues Control was an experimental duo unlike anything I have ever seen or heard of. The female keyboardist had her long dark hair covering her face the entire time, making everyone question the face behind the music. We were left with only the music they were producing. Blues Control had a very experimental sound unique to only them. The performance left me speechless. At one point the entire venue started shaking with their powerful bass, making it feel as if an earthquake just struck. During the set, the keyboardist grabbed an electric guitar, got down on her knees, and scraped at the strings for no less than 5 minutes. While confusing during the actual performance, I have now had time to reflect on the genuine artistic expression this scene portrayed and I have to say I respect the two for challenging the norms and performing in a way so genuine to them.
After this intense set, many of the audience members were left with a very confused and nervous look on their faces. I was a little nervous that the extremity of the opening band would take away from Panda Bear’s performance, but thankfully I was wrong. As soon as Panda Bear, who is also a member of Animal Collective, stepped out onto the stage the audience erupted. As I looked around everyone had these smiles filled with anticipation spread across their faces. Panda Bear started off his set with “Ms Pacman” and some intense visuals.
The visual aspect of the show was almost as good as Panda Bear himself. On screen there was everything from old people laughing to two alien women making love. At some points the visuals became a little too overwhelming, but all in all they played an integral role in the full Panda Bear experience. The pictures on screen acted as a visual version of the music. He got the crowd grooving when he started playing the ever popular, “You Can Count On Me”, which was accompanied by hundreds off blank faces as visuals. The addition of these faces to the powerful and drawn out notes gave the song an even eerier vibe than already present. My favorite song from his set was the last song before his encores, Last Night at the Jetty. Based on the expressions scattered on the faces of the patrons, everyone was feeling the music deep in their cores leading to a powerful and intimate experience being shared by all. However, in classic Panda Bear style, the ending visuals for this song were women vomiting profusely. I found this to be a little off putting and had to look away when they would pop up, as did most of the crowd. As soon as this song ended, without flinching he thanked the crowd and walked off. Expectedly, he came back for an encore (my concert pet peeve) several minutes later to everyone’s delight. He played “Scheherazade” and “Surfer’s Hymn”, both of which were accompanied by grim reaper visuals, which may have been in honor of his upcoming album, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper. I was surprised by the amount of old songs he played with the news of his mixtape being released 3 days prior, but I was not upset by this because I was able to jam to some of my old Panda Bear favorites.
All in all, the show felt more like a psychedelic trip than a concert, however it was an incredible experience. It may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but I like weird things and let me tell you, Panda Bear is very weird.