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.
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.
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.
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