A thunderous, slow-decaying flash of reverb. A distant clamoring. Voices in three registers, melded into a single unit. Floating lanterns draped in lagoon netting, buoying like ghosts. At last night’s sold-out Grizzly Bear show, understated whimsicality prevailed. The sound was massive and controlled; it was undeniably vital. Grizzly Bear is at the top of its game.
Let me backtrack, though. I spent the majority of my day yesterday, the day before, and the day before that, trying to make sense of Grizzly Bear’s latest record, Shields, a record I also reviewed. I probably listened to the record 20 times, belaboring over the exact words to describe the thing. It played in the background while I typed and deleted and retyped, it soundtracked my commute to and from work, it played through noise-cancelling headphones for pockets of the workday. I literally shoved it into my head.
As a guy who writes about music, I get flustered when I can’t effortlessly trace the roots of the sounds I’m hearing, when I can’t pin a band’s aesthetic down to a few concise sentences within minutes. It becomes a game of searching for simple answers where in fact, they may not exist in that form. I’ve listened to every Grizzly Bear album, reviewed two of them, seen the band live five times, and I still have a relatively weak grasp on what their sound means in the vast spectrum of musical history. I can’t really “figure Grizzly Bear out” and it flat-out pisses me off.
If you were at last night’s show, though, you will undoubtedly agree, none of this pseudo-musical-academia is necessary. Grizzly Bear is good at burying their varied influences in songs that are simply good, no matter the etymology. Sure, I can go down the rabbit hole and say Incredible String Band, Van Dyke Parks, and Kurt Weill are all evident in Grizzly Bear’s sound, and yada yada Jazz yada chamber pop. But the important thing is that Grizzly Bear possesses an immense power to move people–whether we understand just why or how is hardly relevant.
Last night, Grizzly Bear did all of their records equal justice, elegantly delivering each note with the same level of acute attention to detail, fascination with the sounds continually spilling into the room, and an eagerness to be accepted by the sold out crowd. Songs from Yellow House, Friend, Horn of Plenty, and Veckatimest have lost none of their luster, and when paired beside these new explosive tracks, it’s actually quite difficult to detect the differences. One band created all of these songs–an overarching vision that resonates with many people who might not care about the specific architecture.
Starting the night off, “Speak in Rounds” found Droste singing a new infectious chorus with an explosive edge surrounding his operatic croon. “Adelma” continued, marking a fluidity and keen attention to live texture and ambiance which few bands are really interested in capturing. When a band plays an interlude second in their set, you realize they’re putting on a show, not just playing some songs. Radiohead have always been best at this, and it seems Grizzly Bear gleaned a good deal from opening for them on their In Rainbows tour. You could feel all of the tempo changes, build ups, let downs, and wandering bridges, warm lanterns glowing in the periphery and floodlights blasting along with the clanking.
“Yet Again” clawed at the crowd, a lulling Droste singing his way to the song’s rapturously chaotic climax. A wall of keyboards from a fifth player helped add a one man orchestra to the equation. Rossen beat his guitar to a pulp, like a Jonny Greenwood breakdown injected into a folk-rock explosion. “Foreground” and “Shift” were much-needed gauze pads for our bleeding ears, glistening and humming with a coziness only Grizzly Bear can ignite. The room lit up, the speakers cooed and yelped, and the crowd greeted it all with raised hands, loud voices, and rapt energy.
“Let’s just play the 9:30 club forever,” Droste jested, before dedicating “The Knife” to D.C..
The last time I saw Grizzly Bear, it was here, at the 9:30 club. It was fantastic. I stood in almost the exact same spot. For whatever reason, last night, I wasn’t expecting much. But, I left with a reborn excitement for my own enthusiasm. It was the same old Grizzly Bear, playing with the same old polite elegance and bombastic synergy. It’s fun to hang out with old friends when they’ve always got something new to say, in a language they’ve been teaching for a while. No questions asked.
Speak in Rounds
A Simple Answer
While You Wait for the Others
Sun in Your Eyes
On A Neck, On a Spit