Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Grizzly Bear at Hollywood Forever Cemetery - August 9, 2013

It was eight years ago this month that I tumbled head over heels back into rock music. It had such an immediate and enormous impact on my life that I'll never be able to forget the date of August 1st 2005. In fact it was one of those points when your life has been changed forever, but it takes a few years to really sink in. This past weekend was a fitting way to begin my celebration of this significant event. Three outdoor concerts in three days, the start of a vacation from work and the weekend before the much anticipated Echo Park Rising.

This was the first time I've been able to attend one of the outdoor concerts at the historic Hollywood Forever Cemetery and Grizzly Bear was the perfect band for that introduction. It was such a special night that I'll relate it from the beginning. It's been nearly a year since the release of their latest album, Shields, so I wasn't sure how big the clamor for tickets to this show would be, especially considering the $55. price tag. Arriving a little after the gates opened at 7 PM, I was in that zig-zagging line that snakes it's way back and forth on the lawn just outside the cemetery and as it wasn't packed, the line moved quickly.

Once inside I followed the path half way into the cemetery, following the sound of the opening band, Regal Degal, who began right on schedule. As I neared the concert site, I saw the sea of blankets that picnickers had set up, but noticed a small crowd who had forgone the chance to set up camp in order to get up close to the stage and hold onto a standing spot. That was for me. I wandered to a central position where the sound balance was at its best, about seven people deep from the stage and I was firmly planted there for the next two hour. Though once Grizzly Bear began I was anywhere but standing on a square patch of grass in the middle of Hollywood. I was out somewhere in the stratosphere.

As Regal Degal finished up their set, the audience saw the sun set and then observed the stage crew setting up for the headliner. All very early, as the cemetery and the surrounding residents demand the show be over by 11, the band must go on at 8:30. Almost before you knew it, Grizzly Bear came on stage and tribal drums began beating, signaling the song, "Speak in Rounds" which features lead vocals by Daniel Rossen, who has become as much of the identifying vocal sound of this band as it's founder Ed Droste.
Once the harmony vocals kick in I am reminded once again how important it is to see a band like this live. To be reminded that what you're hearing is actually four singers singing. The effect is to feel as if one is approaching nirvana.

What began as a solo bedroom project of Ed Droste has, not exactly blossomed, so much as exploded into a band that commands such respect that a regular rock and roll audience will hold it's collective breath as Grizzly Bear wanders off into enchanting solo instrumentation so delicate that each note resembles a tear drop or a bubble about to break. I love the way they're not afraid to include really quiet, introspective songs in their repertoire...and the audience eats it up! The band commented on the extraordinary concentration of this crowd.

They have come a long way since I first saw them at Spaceland in September 2006, having just brought Daniel Rossen on board to join Ed and Chris Bear and Chris Taylor. They were still very much an experimental band, figuring out how to convey, in a live setting, music that had pretty much existed only in Ed Droste's head, or on a computer somewhere. But they have all become contributing composers and seem to share the vision that Ed brought to the music as a solo artist.

Over the next few years I saw them coalesce as a group and move from The Troubadour up to The Wiltern and ultimately to The Greek. At each stage the sound grew bigger and richer, losing none of it's complexity or nuance, as their fan base grew larger and larger. The only exception being their show at the Hollywood Palladium in 2009 where the tendency is to try to make over every band into an arena rock band. It did not suit Grizzly Bear and they drowned in over-amplified bass and the cavernous echo of that gigantic space.

I've given up trying to categorize this band as I find them to be, alternatively, a noise band, a vocal band, and a chamber ensemble depending on what song they're playing. This concert only reaffirmed that as they moved through their enormous repertoire of songs, deftly mingling precise solo passages with the overwhelming bombast of each band member playing at full volume. The sense of being lost in a hypnotic state of musical reverie was profound.

There's something so moving about Ed's vocals, a naked vulnerability that comes across clearly as he grips the microphone and unashamedly displays his obvious passion for singing. But lest you think the recordings are all over-dubbing of his vocals, to see the band live is to witness the four extraordinary vocalists in the band wrapping their voices around each other in endlessly revolving patterns weaving dense textures of vocal passages. It's easy to imagine that it's lifting you up to the sky. Especially when there's no ceiling.

They performed nearly all of Shields, including "Sleeping Ute" "A Simple Answer" and "Yet Again" but liberally sprinkled the set list with already-classic songs from Yellow House: "Lullaby" and  "Little Brother", Veckatimest: "Two Weeks", the amazing "Cheerleader", "Ready Able" and a particularly powerful rendition of "While You Wait For The Others". Between song banter was kept to a minimum, though Ed said how happy he was to have relocated to Los Angeles six months ago, to the sustained cheers from his 'new' hometown crowd. After the enthusiastic reception for the first few songs, Chris Bear quietly quipped "Gee, I really expected a dead audience tonight".

Special mention must be made of the extraordinarily beautiful light show, by Michael Brown I believe, that completely enveloped those of us lucky enough to be down front, complete with the hanging lanterns that have been part of their stage set for a few years now and the seizure-inducing strobes, augmented by roving colored lights and lots of fog.
The encore played as I was walking down the long dark road out of the cemetery. It's still amazing to me that you can be in the middle of this city and yet be completely alone on a road, or a street, in the dark and hear the echoes of a song like "Knife". What a beautiful moment that was. As I left I carried with me, not only the mesmerizing sound of the music of Grizzly Bear, but the extraordinary visual display that accompanied it and the feeling that those of us that witnessed this will never forget it.


photos by Brad Roberts