Ahead of the release of Panda Bear’s upcoming fifth solo album – apparently titled Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper and expected in September of this year – Noah Lennox and his table of electronics stopped by Toronto’s Opera House to give fans a preview.
Last in the city in mid-2013 with Animal Collective, Lennox packed in a near-capacity crowd – a much larger audience than AC band mate Avey Tare brought in when he was here with his Slasher Flicks project. But if anyone showed up solely familiar with Panda Bear from his appearance on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, they would leave disappointed… or at least perplexed. Lennox’s set shied far, far away from the poppy sensibilities of his “Doin’ It Right” collaboration, instead offering up transfixing electronics that were certainly interesting to hear but far from dance-floor friendly.
Taking to the stage promptly at his 10:15 set time, Lennox performed behind a desk of wires and knobs, clutching at a microphone with his eyes firmly shut. Much of his set was entirely new material – simple lights flashing around him as a huge screen projected images of colourful smoke, saturated faces, strawberries, snakes, sci-fi nudity, and a grim reaper cuddling/tearing apart a toy Panda Bear, of all things.
The audience was fairly still, watching Lennox as he performed droning electronic tones and elongated, exaggerated vocal phrasings. It’s a bit of a hard sell on a weeknight because, admittedly, much of the crowd seemed to be on the edge of exhaustion, holding back yawns as they waited, perhaps, for something to kick in or for some sort of engagement between the artist and his crowd. But the longer he played (which was, for the record, an hour and a half,) the more enthralling it all seemed to become. Rather than lose the crowd with his self-reflexive electronic geekiness, we seemed to fall down his rabbit hole of music.
Panda Bear’s third song featured vocal looping and 80’s era electronic beats, its repetitive nature well received. Another new one, with the lyrics “you can’t come back, you won’t come back” was slow and dreamy, while chugging tribal rhythms followed it later in the set on a song apparently titled “Down Below.” More shimmering, upbeat textures came closer to the end of the set and gave the crowd something to latch on – people quick to jump in and show some slight body movement on the floor.
Lennox ended his set with some very limited audience engagement, giving the crowd a requisite thanks and telling us he had a really great time. He was encouraged on for an encore, the dark pounding bass of “Last Night At The Jetty,” from 2010’s Tomboy, captivating much of the crowd in its familiarity and with its layered vocal choruses.
The thought that the more upbeat momentum would be something he’d build upon was soon put to rest however, Lennox instead opting for a slower, more atonal pace with another Tomboy offering of “Scheherazade.” It lead into the rapidly building “Surfer’s Hymn,” Lennox leaving the stage to the sound of waves crashing as images of the ocean played behind him and the crowd cheered.
I was ultimately left with the analogy of going to a museum or gallery. Interesting to watch – and something a music fan should experience now and again – but not the most entertaining or engaging show you’ll see. Noah Lennox can leave that to someone else, though. He’s clearly got a lot going on in his head but he’s not one to show all that chaos in a rather laidback performance.