Canada Choate on Panda Bear at Pioneer Works

Panda Bear. February 15, 2019. Pioneer Works, Red Hook, Brooklyn. Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE between being boring and being uninteresting? Panda Bear’s show at Pioneer Works earlier this month, during which he played almost exclusively material drawn from his 2018 EP A Day With the Homies and his 2019 LP Buoys, left me wondering which of those adjectives best describes his musical sin. Noah Lennox (aforementioned Panda Bear, and member of Animal Collective), with the help of Person Pitch (2007) producer Rusty Santos, built the nine tracks on Buoys out of repetitive acoustic guitar strumming, a few samples, a deep, almost inaudible bass, and his wheedling voice. Lennox’s stated intention to “talk in some kind of intimate, caring way” about “the global family”—an earnest, if ludicrous task—rendered his formerly personal, precise lyrics generic: “Lit from a light within/Made from a brittle thing/We got a special thing (Ooh)/Stuck between a rock and a hard place.” Buoys runs its course in thirty-one minutes, washing over the listener but never becoming compelling enough either rhythmically, thematically, or melodically to leave a lasting impression. Although Lennox and Santos claim to have been inspired by global trap music, none of that genre’s vitality, swagger, or emotion comes through. Buoys is a pleasant enough record to hear once or twice; repeated listenings reveal no depth.

Lennox’s live performance of these uneventful compositions failed to hold the attention of even those in the crowd clutching freshly-purchased, shrink-wrapped vinyl. Isolated behind a DJ booth, swallowed by a pair of studio headphones, and backdrop-ped by three screens displaying “trippy” video graphics, he lacked presence. He attempted to hook the audience by opening the set with 2007 banger “Comfy in Nautica,” and his choice of resolutely 2011 Tumblr iconography as moving image accompaniment—CGI dancing sexy women (both human and alien), seapunk slime, dolphins, and mutating chevrons—only solidified my conviction that the best of Panda Bear is long behind us. By the fourth number, “Token,” from Buoys, I felt as though all enthusiasts had vacated the venue to gather instead around the lovely fire pit crackling out back under the Red Hook sky. A sample made from the sound of water dripping, used in both “Dolphin” and “Home Free,” invoked fond reminiscences of a Laraaji show at the Park Church Co-Op I attended last month, in which the sound of falling rain undergirded a magisterially restrained, sensitive solo performance: a perfect foil for Panda Bear’s grandiose vacuity. (A friend of mine equated Lennox’s dragging set to “a form of water torture.”) Like the chilliest, least effective EDM DJ, Lennox set up drops and then lets the crowd down slowly. His shredded vocals wafted around the venue’s cavernous hall like drugged butterflies. The bass sent vibrations through my body, yet I felt nothing.

Lennox’s tunes proved especially dull when compared to those of the opening act. Home Blitz, a band whose sound might best be described as pop punk (of the Game Theory variety) delivered by Wildechild Maxwell Demon of Todd Haynes’s Velvet Goldmine, played an enthralling, schizophrenic set for the early birds. Halfway through, the drummer and bassist disappeared, leaving frontman Daniel DiMaggio on stage to recite a breathless, bratty ode to sensibility over a poked and prodded piano track. DiMaggio’s purposeful sneering and disaffected manner demonstrated the profound power of irony, while Panda Bear’s complacent, self-approving dirges fell flat. Needless to say, we did not stay for the encore.

Panda Bear performed on Friday, February 15 at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn.