The Falcon   |   Volume 83, Issue 53

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Grizzly Bear’s live act lives up to its polished recorded work

By , Editor in Chief

Published: October 10 2012

“Cheers, Seattle, to a great weekend” vocalist Ed Droste said in between songs. He thanked the audience time after time for spending their Friday night with him and his band mates at The Paramount.

But our weekends probably weren’t going to get any better than that show. Grizzly Bear’s live act is just as polished and captivating as their recorded material.

The sound guy should have collected tips, because the audio mix was dialed in just right. Their music, a dense blend of chamber pop and folk, is bursting with good ideas, and it’s never a given that you’ll hear them all in concert. But the most important components of each song were usually front and center. The band varied their set list with quieter tunes such as “Foreground,” “Knife,” and a stripped-down rendition of “All We Ask.” These songs were treated with care and provided a change in pace amid the louder songs.

Droste always seemed to be on tiptoe at the microphone. He shares lead vocal duties with band mate Daniel Rossen but definitely owned the stage live.

Droste was free during most songs to move around and interact with the music, and drew more attention onstage. While his voice can sound slack-jawed and sort of flat on the albums, there was never a dull note on stage – lots of life. Rossen, however, was a cool cucumber, and seemed content to keep to himself. He held his guitar close or sat hunched over his keyboard, usually looking downward or beyond the audience. Maybe he’s secretly 200 years old.

The band put together stellar live arrangements for each song. Their performance nodded toward the recorded versions while still sounding immediate and powerful live.

They played “Cheerleader” third. The stumbling stupor of the recorded version was replaced by sharper and more aggressive drums and guitar onstage, to an exciting effect.

Next was “Yet Again,” a new song with big, swooping guitar chords, urged on by some relentless percussion. The avalanche of noise at the end was punctuated with the most frenzied use of the lights we’d see all night.

Later in the evening they played “While You Wait for the Others,” which may be the best jumping-in point for their music. Rossen’s guitar is at its very best here, and his bitter lyrics complement the jagged instruments around it.

Chris Taylor, the band’s producer and a Seattle native, was a busy guy onstage. He played bass, saxophone and clarinet, and pitched in backing vocals.

Christopher Bear’s drumming was under control, yet still made itself noticed. Maybe it was because he didn’t use too much crash cymbal. Drummers always do that.

A dozen or so floating ghost-jellyfish-things hung above the band, moving up and down on their strings and lighting up with the music.

The band was touring in support of Shields, their latest LP. It’s rough around the edges, a departure from the previous two albums – which makes it their most accessible yet. There aren’t any pop bombshells like Veckatimest’s “Two Weeks,” but the average song is humbler and more inviting.

They’re a band of many strengths, but they’ve done it so meticulously in the past that some of the appeal disappears. With Shields, they’ve shed some of the stuffiness that characterized their earlier work.

The four-piece band formed in New York and released Yellow House in 2005 and Veckatimest in 2009. Shields and Veckatimest have been almost-gaudy shows in creativity and meticulousness in the same way that Sufjan Stevens’ and Radiohead’s albums are.

“I can’t get out of what I’m into with you,” Grizzly Bear sang in “All We Ask,” the closer for their encore. These lyrics could prove bittersweet: Taylor hinted in an interview with The New York Times recently that Shields may be the band’s last album together. If so, fans will be have to be satisfied with a few great albums and Friday’s great show.

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