Imaginary Victoria: “Girl, if it says doors are at 8, that means Grizzly Bear goes on at 8.“
Imaginary Heather: “Naw, there’s an opening band and all the shows I’ve seen at the Moore lately have started at like 930…We don’t gotta be there until 9.“
Imaginary Victoria: “I dunno girl, <Someone> says that shows always start on time there. I’d hate to be late for that show. I’m just sayin’…“
Imaginary Heather: “Ok, ok, I don’t want to miss anything either. I’ll pick you up at 730.“
Cut to me giving Victoria a VERY pointed look as we killed an hour and a half in the underground bar at the Moore on Friday night, just prior to the highly anticipated show. Heh. No bother, it gave us time to get a drink or three and people watch before the show. Lots of local musicians in the house. The doormen were playing Hipster Bingo, and Victoria and I both got a square for him: her for her star tattoos, me for my Parliaments. I think he won. We felt lame.
Grizzly Bear had what appeared to be a very subtle stage setup. About 50 glass bottles hung suspended from T-poles, a few were also scattered across the front of the stage. Very Tennessee Williams. Members of the band ambled on and offstage without a care in the world as the audience found their seats in the very crowded Moore theater. The room was so abuzz with anticipation, it was as if Sunny Day Real Estate wasn’t playing across town or something. A drugged out dude danced up and down the aisles. Just prior to the start, Victoria leaned into me and said “This is gonna be awesome!“.
And indeed it was. Dan Rossen’s amazing and eerie voice filled the room on the first notes of “Southern Point” as the stage lights segued from red to yellow to purple. Big jangle on the guitar, although the sound was a bit muffled at first. Four-part harmonizing flawless, nice distortion on guitar, great buildup and sustain on drums. Rossen’s voice rose pure and perfect over it all. The tension-filled song was a great way to begin Grizzly Bear’s flawless set. Oh! All the little jars burst into light on the final note.
This was followed by the sultry “Cheerleader,” beautifullly sung by Ed Droste. I love the modern-day Doo Wop style on this song, and Droste’s androgynous voice has such a wounded elegance. Closely following was one of my favorites to hear live, “Lullabye”. The orchestrations between flute, voice, xylophone and zither were simply unreal. Harmonies between Droste and Rossen were completely crystalline. Seriously, the whole group singing together was indescribable, especially on the refrain: “Chin Up Cheer Up“. That whole song really gets to me and played live it’s just beautiful mayhem. The stage was stark in a foreboding white light that lent an eerie, cultish feel to the ensemble, however as we were brought back down, warm light began tracking through the glass jars in time to the music. Nice.
Continuing, we got the Rossen-sung “Little Brother” containing some pretty fantastic guitar work, felt by every member of the audience on the deep, booming bridge. The live version contained a light touch on the percussion and that awesome guitar picking part was played to perfection. Nice additional vocals were provided by Droste and once again utterly perfect harmonies lent by all members of the band. Very swoony. These boys really have their shit together. To be honest, it’s almost TOO perfect, if there could be such a thing. I guess I didn’t see a lot of joy in their playing, or a lot of variation on any of the songs. But still, this may have been the venue as it’s difficult to be as blown away at the Moore as you could be at a more intimate venue. I’m not complaining because the show was fucking impeccable. I’m not even going to get into “Knife” except to acknowledge that I wrote down “Vocals by Taylor: CHECK + + + +“.
Even yet still more unfathomable beauty played out on “Fine For Now”, with a great crash of guitar and drums and deep throbbing bass. The heart-swelling vocal combinations by Ed & Dan had me reeling. It ended with a nice wail and got quite rock n’ roll at the close. But seriously? When I heard the opening keyboards to “Two Weeks,” I squealed like a child: “OOOH! This one’s mine!” I’d been waiting for…well, weeks to hear “Two Weeks” live, it’s my favorite off of Veckatimest. Ed absolutely sighed his way through the whole song and it was marvelous, like hearing in slow motion. Great analog guitar and staccato keys punctuated the song to the abrupt end. And the crowd went wi-i-i-ld. Wow, we’re not even halfway through the set.
The audience was thoroughly entranced by a very stripped down version of “Colorado” which could not have been more gorgeous. “Colorado” is always spellbinding but this was something else. The whole band busied themselves: Rossen singing and effecting the hell out of his guitar, Seattle’s Chris Taylor on flute and clarinet, Droste providing echoey vocals and messing with a small synth. Drummer Chris Bear was actually providing the whistling effect when not adding percussive elements. At times I felt like I was underwater, then later it switched to a kind of subterranean funereal feel. Taylor was definitely the one to watch, as he switched from flute to clarinet to guitar and back to clarinet again. Again, I did wish that we were in a smaller venue, it’s cuts like “Colorado” that really provide shock and awe in that setting. I guess the highly technical, theatrical element to the band and the music does translate somewhat in a setting like The Moore.
Following THAT, Droste “dedicated [this song] to Seattle” as Rossen on acoustic guitar gave us one of his solo works, the very simple “Deep Blue Sea”. Rossen’s voice just kills me, I’ve said it before but it has this fairy-tale quality that isn’t altogether benign. It’s hypnotic and other-worldly without being creepy, but you aren’t exactly safe being alone with it either…it might make you do something illegal.
Further tracks in the set were the urgent and animated “Ready, Able” followed by “I Live With You” which I’m sure was written right after someone got back from a tour. Both were beautiful in tone and contained rich, swelling combinations and vocals. And oh, then “Foreground.” Honestly, I don’t want to use the phrase “trapped in a dream” but fuck it. We were trapped in a dream. How about I use the term “ethereal” somewhere too? The crowd went nuts, Imaginaries included. Finally nearing a close, we heard the album-quality “While You Wait for the Others”, full of fat bass lines and great Crash! Boom! bits. The jarred lights were timed perfectly to illuminate off and on with the music, which must have really taken some serious skill to set up. Lastly and a little unexpectedly, the band finished with “On a Neck, On a Spit” which I love for all it’s swooshy and crashy parts and that complete 180 the song takes in the middle. Bear was rocking the hell out of the drums with some seriously jaw-dropping rolls. Holy crap.
A well deserved standing ovation was offered as the band took a short break, before returning to perform the classic torch song “He Hit Me.” Droste really stretched out the vocals on this one and that characteristic bass line was just wrenching. The whole band put everything into this one, with great bigness on the harmonies. I think one of the things that makes Grizzly Bear truly great is that as individuals, each member is tremendously talented in their own right and the focus isn’t ever on any one member over another. When they come together as a group it’s like some kind of massive musical explosion happens, even if it doesn’t really create much of a mess.
1) Southern Point (Veckatimest)
2) Cheerleader (Veckatimest)
3) Lullabye (Yellow House)
4) Little Brother (Yellow House)
5) Knife (Yellow House)
6) Fine for Now (Veckatimest)
7) Two Weeks (Veckatimest)
8) Colorado (Yellow House)
9) Deep Blue Sea (Rossen Solo)
10) Ready, Able (Veckatimest)
11) I Live With You (Veckatimest)
12) Foreground (Veckatimest)
13) While You Wait for the Others (Veckatimest)
14) On a Neck, On a Spit (Yellow House)
E1) He Hit Me (Friend)