Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Grizzly Bear at The Greek (10/10/12)

There are certain concerts that reverberate through your head for days. Accompanied by a buoyancy of spirit that such profound fulfilment can bring. It certainly puts a bounce in my step. Wondrous spectacle, fragile delicacy punctuated by crescendos of sweeping bombast and the hypnotically chaotic compositions that somehow all pull together under the creamy harmonies of their beautiful voices. That's a Grizzly Bear concert!

I felt serendipity was on my side when I started to climb the long hill up from Los Feliz Boulevard to The Greek and the kindly Joe Napolitano and Jillinda Palmer took pity on the elderly gentleman trudging slowly up the sidewalk. They pulled over and gave me a ride the rest of the way. I knew the night would be good right then and there.

The weather was perfect for a Fall night, but frankly, if it got cold, no one noticed. I had a good seat in the front section so was just as glad I wasn't in the overcrowded pit, which looked like it was filled with some of Los Angeles' tallest music fans. 

I only saw some of the Lower Dens opening set, but it sounded pretty and an appropriate thematic lead in for Grizzly Bear. By the time the headliners came on stage, right on schedule at 8:45, all the seats had filled up. Ambient chords washed out over the crowd, kind of like a monochromatic overture, as fog and lights wrapped the stage in a bluish glow and odd ghostly figures with sad eyes slowly rose from the stage into the air. 

I'm not sure what they represented, but to me they looked vaguely like floating sperm with long tails of twisted umbilical cord. Maybe they were hanging IV bottles. Or maybe I was reading too much into it. Anyway, during the course of the evening, they would rise and fall, sometimes in unison, sometimes separately. What this opening did was induced a trance-like mood in the audience who were then prepared for whatever direction Grizzly Bear had in mind.

It's a far cry from the first time I ever saw them at Spaceland in 2006, when Ed Droste (at right) had first gotten a band together to satisfy the demand for live shows once his music broke on Myspace. They sat on the floor and fiddled with knobs and buttons, played guitars and keys, and performed a stunning recreation of the original music Ed Droste had composed and recorded by himself in his room.

Christopher Bear, Daniel Rossen and Chris Taylor have been Grizzly Bear for about six years now, as both performers and writers, and I've seen them grow from Spaceland to The Troubadour to The Walt Disney Concert Hall to The Wiltern to The Hollywood Palladium. In fact, the last time I saw them was three years ago at The Palladium and it was a big disappointment because the sound was awful, all arena thump and way too bass heavy. Removed all the nuance and basically ruined their music.

But I also knew The Greek would be a perfect place to restore their integrity and that they did. Obviously their new album Shields has had an impact already because as soon as the low thumps of "Speaking in Rounds" began, the audience rose to its feet and squealed in delight. We never sat down again. Next, they went backward to the first song on the album, the single "Sleeping Ute" and it's propulsive beat which breaks mid-way to reveal a delicate reverie at the center.

From then on it was a journey back to previous albums with new songs strategically placed for maximum impact. I was glad they sang so much from Veckatimest including album favorites like "Cheerleader", "Two Weeks" and the challenging "While You Wait For The Others", but they covered all but one song from Shields. With the aid of an additional keyboardist, Aaron Arntz, who made the band a five-piece, they were able to fill out their sound to a near-perfect recreation of the recordings.

This is one of those bands that, no matter how good they sound on record, they are even better in person. The singing is stronger, the orchestrations more grandiose, and the emotional impact more... impactful. There's little between-song nonsense as they get down to the serious business of creating a nearly elusive balance between psychedelic rock and art-rock, accompanied by a visual presentation that hypnotizes the audience.

The singular light-hearted moment came when Ed commented, "It sure smells like the audience is having a good time". Yes, the air was filled with a fragrant aroma. Contact highs were epidemic. It was wonderful to hear them go all the way back to Horn of Plenty for "Shift", which they had rearranged for the full band on their EP release of 2007, Friends and presented here live. From Yellow House came "Lullaby" and, during the encores, "Knife" which features Chris Taylor's extraterrestrial puppy yelps.

The concert, proper, ended with the last two songs from Shields, "Half Gate" and the splashy "Sun In Your Eyes" which provided an appropriately dramatic and bombastic finale with the lighting following suit (see below). The three encore songs kept us up at that high point even after we filed out into the night. The audio and visual stimulation of this show will make it  truly a highlight of the year. And the audience appeared to have been held completely in thrall. It was the kind of audience that make you proud of Los Angeles. There's a warmth that I see coming from this city's music fans that makes me wonder if it's the same elsewhere.
I had the great good luck of going to a show at Hotel Cafe the next night and meeting Grizzly Bear's guest musician for this tour, Aaron Arntz (seen second from right with the rest of the band), and we got to chat for a little while. I was eager to ask what it is like to perform with such a spectacular light and effect show going on around the band. He said it's not at all distracting, but actually enhances their experience on stage and adds drama to the concert. Michael Brown is the extraordinary lighting designer who designs for the legitimate theatre as well as rock and roll concert staging. I noted the dreamy weightlessness that was similar to the floating mason jars that hovered around the stage at their Palladium show three years ago. That was Michael Brown as well and he seems to be the perfect designer for this band as they are on the same elusive wavelength.

As I related to him how I first saw Grizzly Bear at Spaceland in 2006, he said he had been part of that show as a player in the opening band, Hour of the Shipwreck. I had been impressed with that band as well, only now I learned from Aaron that their drummer had been Barbara Gruska (now of The Belle Brigade). I even saw Aaron performing with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros last May at The Greek. The criss-cross overlapping of bands and players probably happens a lot more than I can keep track of.

His being asked to join Grizzly Bear for this tour was unrelated to being on the stage with them six years ago, and was a happy coincidence. The band was still in town as this was the last show of the U.S. leg of their world tour and they departed for London on Sunday to cover Europe for the next month. Taking their light show and floating sperm with them. This was my seventh time seeing Grizzly Bear and it was certainly one of the very best shows I've seen (or heard) from them. It's a week later and I'm still vibrating.


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