Live: Grizzly Bear Shimmers at Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall
Monday, September 24
Better than: Watching replacement refs ruin the NFL.
A mere three songs into Grizzly Bear's two-hour set at Radio City Music Hall last night, the band already managed to exceed expectations. Singer Daniel Rossen stood proudly at center stage before the crowd, engulfed in a swirling rainbow of light. Behind him, a collection of at least 18 individual orb-shaped lanterns bounced around, appearing like large white roses lit up with candles, slowly and distinctly moving and circling each other in rhythm. "Dreamed a long day, just wandering free," he crooned. To both his left and right, the rest of the Brooklyn four-piece wailed on their instruments, cranking out "Sleeping Ute" at its highest throttle. The track is the lead single from their fourth and most recent record, Shields, which was released earlier this month -- and on this evening, the song's sonic eruption of fluttering and polished guitar work combined with its whimsical lyricism to set the appropriate tone for the rest of the show.
Grizzly Bear is a band that doesn't really make mistakes -- well, at least not on purpose. Their 10-year career has illustrated that every decision and act each member does in their music -- whether it's an aggressive guitar lick or a soaring harmony or making a bunch of really weird noises with an instrument that's difficult to pronounce -- is done with the utmost importance and consideration. Even the sounds found in the outskirts of the songs are full of specific decisions, like the ringing, almost melodic reverb during a minute-long interlude track like "Adelma." At times, this approach may be mistaken for pretension, but it's more along the fact that these guys don't seem to be making music for any other reason than to just make music. They want it to be diverse, experimental, challenging, beautiful, all wrapped into one.
With that in mind, Radio City Music Hall is the ideal venue for a Grizzly Bear concert. Its big, hallowing hall presents a space where the band can do nothing but focus. And moreover, they can play fucking loud, and that's when they are at their best. On "Yet Again," Shields' second single and a song about the inevitabilities and routines of life, the group took their time with the lengthy rendition, building slowly to crescendo from an off-putting, undefined collection of wiggling guitar strums and drum beats into a huge, precise sing-along-like experience. The same happened with "Ready, Able," a cut from 2009's Veckatimest. Gliding from an introspective sound into something so much more thundering and expansive, swallowing up the auditorium in a twisting, almost visceral soundscape, vocalist Ed Droste howled, "There go we go, I want you to know, what I did I did."
If last night's performance had a weakness, it's due to the fact that this experimental side simply isn't quite as entertaining when it's quiet and reserved. That's not to say it's "bad," per se. Rather, each member of the four piece -- Rossen, Droste, multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor, and drummer Christopher Bear -- is such an individually talented musician that it's possible that they get lost in their own reflective eccentricities. This occurred sporadically throughout the evening, but specifically in "Lullabye," from 2006's Yellow House, a time period in their career when the band was arguably a bit less accessible. However, to their credit, after the initial few minutes of reservation, the track took a screaming turn and transitioned into blasting guitars surrounded by chaotic strobe lights, turning into one of the best moments of the night, and one that, again, shows just how great the band is when they play really, really loud.
The most admirable trait about Grizzly Bear, ultimately, is their consistency. That shouldn't come as a surprise with a band full of such great musicians, but it seems rare these days when an indie rock group embraces the idea of a clean, precise sound. After closing out the main set with "Sun in Your Eyes," a song that superbly highlights the upper range of the members' vocals, the band was met with a standing ovation. They sheepishly exited, but were back within minutes for a three-song encore, ending the evening with an acoustic version of "All We Ask." At that moment, Rossen, Droste, and Taylor gathered around a microphone like a campfire, slowly building the heartbreaking track as Bear offered soft, crisp pops on his snare: "I can't, get out, of what I'm into, with you." It seemed, too, that concertgoers felt the same way.
Critical Bias: I prefer the Michael McDonald version of "While You Wait for the Others" and he didn't show up.
Overheard: After the concert, in the lobby: "Union Pool is about to get so packed."
Random Notebook Dump: These dudes are major dorks, but, hey, they are dressed really well.
Speak in Rounds
A Simple Answer
While You Wait for the Others
Sun in Your Eyes
On a Neck, On a Spit
All We Ask