Home > Uncategorized > Keeping up with the motions: Grizzly Bear, 2009.06.02.

Keeping up with the motions: Grizzly Bear, 2009.06.02.

Grizzly Bear/Here We Go Magic
The Trocadero
Philadelphia, PA

When I met Ed Droste from Grizzly Bear last year before Radiohead’s Camden show, I made him wince with just a few simple words: “The first time I saw you guys was at the Knitting Factory in 2005.” With a grimace, Mr. Droste replied, “God, we were rough back then.” While I would not agree with Mr. Droste’s self-deprecating and dismissive assessment of the band’s early live performances, during which they were still trying to find their collective voice, I bring it up because I think it speaks volumes about Grizzly Bear’s evident and rapid reinventon, refinement, and remodeling of its own image. In short, although the lineup is the same, the band that I saw at the Trocadero on Tuesday evening is not the same band that took the stage to open for the Mountain Goats on Halloween of 2005. (It would be unfair to compare the records, since Horn of Plenty is essentially a solo bedroom project from Droste.)

The show, which was my fifth Grizzly Bear show, although it was my first time seeing them in a headlining capacity, featured Here We Go Magic as the opening act, a band that I had heard of (most likely due to their support act slot for Grizzly Bear member Daniel Rossen’s other songwriting vehicle, Department of Eagles) but never actually heard. A quick listen to a YouTube video posted on their website told me that they basically sounded like a less trippy, more whimsical Animal Collective clone. Fortunately, their live show disproved this quick and possibly lazy assessment. The five-piece band did display myriad easily-recognizable influences – among them Animal Collective (the drummer frequently fell into a primal, insistent tom beat that only needed some delay in order to sound like an imitation of Panda Bear’s style) and Radiohead (one of the songs midway through the set featured guitar interplay eerily similar to “Arpeggi” – yet it has proven impossible for me to definitively peg down their sound or to compare them to any particular band. Which is not to say that they were shrouded in mystery; I did not find them nearly that intriguing. In fact, I was not particularly impressed until the band seemed to hit its stride during the last three songs or so of the set. The next-to-last song in particular – the one during which the singer took to the keyboards (sorry, I don’t know band member names or song titles) – was an interesting and compelling song that left me wanting more. For the most part, however, four days after seeing them play I find much of their set forgettable.

As the stage was being set for Grizzly Bear, the excitement and anticipation in the sold-out room was palpable. This is one thing that has puzzled me; while I am obviously a fan of Grizzly Bear and obviously I am happy for them and do not in any way begrudge their seemingly sudden success (yay alliteration!) and ascension into current indie rock royalty, I am not exactly sure of HOW this happened. How did such a reserved, nuanced, subtle band suddenly become one of the it-bands of the year? Surely the support slot for Radiohead last year and the media boost from Jonny Greenwood must have helped, but I am amazed by just how big they seem to have gotten nearly overnight. And my Flickr and blog support this; within 24 hours of my initial posting of the setlist on this blog and the photographs of the show on my Flickr page, both pages registered record-high numbers of hits.

However, this is a review of the show and not of the phenomenon. The setlist yielded few surprises: Very little from Horn of Plenty, a choice handful from Yellow House, and seven songs from this year’s mighty (and mighty pretty) Veckatimest. Having already seen them four times, I knew what to expect: the band sets up with all four members sharing the front of the stage; the harmonies are just as achingly beautiful live as they are on record; Chris Taylor makes lots of endearingly silly faces while singing the high vocals on “Knife” and pulls out his clarinet for some bass tones, always one of the sonic highlights of a Grizzly Bear show.

There is something about Grizzly Bear’s stage presence which I am not sure I can articulate that makes them extremely compelling and exciting to see. They are not a particularly visceral band – even during their rock-out moments, do not expect to see any of the band members jumping or thrashing about. Everything about Grizzly Bear seems to be about control and restraint. As such, apart from Mr. Droste’s slight dance moves during “Cheerleader,” there is not much movement. Every sound seems carefully considered, as if one wrong thread will ruin the overall effect of the tapestry. Yet, as careful and considered and fragile as the music seems, there is still a physicality to the music that lends the performance a weight not present in the records, no matter how close to perfect they may be.

The highlight of this show, besides the absolute gorgeousness that is “While You Wait for the Others” and the magical, rolling melody that makes “Ready, Able” such an irresistible tune was the completely unexpected introduction of special guest Victori Legrand from the band Beach House to song along with the boys on current single “Two Weeks.” Although it seemed to my ears like her microphone was a little low and her presence ultimately didn’t add terribly much to the sonic palette, the response from the audience made this feel like a capital-E Event, and immediately upped the ante for the song. Additionally, the sublime performance of “Fix It” was a personal highlight for me; although I have heard this performed several times before, it has never sounded quite so nuanced and psychedelic as it did Tuesday night. The hushed performance of “Shift” was also very pleasant, and I was happy that Grizzly Bear performed two of my favorites from the first album – unlike other bands who pretend that their back catalogs have ceased to exist (I’m looking at you, the National).

Any gripes or criticisms of the show are minor: it would have been nice to maybe hear some more full-band arrangements or re-arrangements of Horn of Plenty songs; although seven songs from Veckatimest were played, I had already heard four of these (“Cheerleader,” “Fine for Now,” “Two Weeks,” “While You Wait for the Others”) performed last summer, and so it would have been nice to have had more variety in the new selections; and while it felt great to get out of a show before 11:00pm, the set seemed just a tad short. But, as I said, these are minor criticisms thrown in so that the review doesn’t seem completely fawning. These guys grow as performers every time I see them, and they also grow as songwriters and sonic sculptors with every album. On Veckatimest, they seem to have fulfilled the promise of Yellow House and taken that sound to its logical conclusion. I am not sure where they are going next, but I will be happy to follow them.

Grizzly Bear setlist:

Southern Point
Little Brother
Fine For Now
Two Weeks (w/ Victoria Legrand)
Ready, Able
I Live With You
Fix It
While You Wait for the Others
On a Neck, On a Spit

For another perspective on the show, I encourage you to visit AK’s review on her blog.

To see all of my photos from the show, please visit my Flickr page.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Jenn
    2009/06/09 at 6:28 pm

    “Everything about Grizzly Bear seems to be about control and restraint. […] Every sound seems carefully considered, as if one wrong thread will ruin the overall effect of the tapestry. Yet, as careful and considered and fragile as the music seems, there is still a physicality to the music that lends the performance a weight not present in the records, no matter how close to perfect they may be.” How eloquent! Well put, Thom!

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