Grizzly Bear | Riviera Theater | September 30, 2012
Photo: Josh Darr
With an introduction from XRT's Jeremy Thomas that referred to Brooklyn art rockers Grizzly Bear as one of the most uncompromising acts today, frontman Ed Droste and company lit up the Riviera Theatre stage last night with "Speak in Rounds," a quiet storm that whips itself up into a hurricane of lush harmonies and rolling drums. It's a pristine example of the band's musical aesthetic and on Shields, Grizzly Bear's days-old fourth LP, it's followed by the atmospheric interlude "Adelma." This same dramatic pause was carried out live, the group fading into the background just long enough to let the spectacle of its stage show come to life. In a lantern-lighting ceremony of sorts, vintage Edison light bulbs, encased in glass jars and wrapped in mesh fabric, illuminated and rose towards the ceiling one by one until a full 18 hung about like glowing, ghostly jellyfish floating atop some unseen sea overhead.
Back down below, the band picked back up with the bluesy "Sleeping Ute," the lead track from its new album. Witnessing songs like this and follow-up "Cheerleaders," from 2009's critically-raved-about Veckatimest, unfold, it's overwhelmingly clear that this is no ordinary band. Drummer Christopher Bear isn't merely keeping time, he's perpetually injecting improvised flourishes on par with jazz great Elvin Jones. Droste and bass player Chris Taylor are interacting like singers in a musical, vocalizing individual lyrics in tandem before coming back together in perfect harmony. These guys may have all been playing it casual and cool up there on stage, but the level of mastery held over their instruments puts them on a plane of existence hovering somewhere up there beside their jellyfish lanterns in the rafters.
Revisiting 2006's Yellow House with "Lullabye," the quintet—multi-instrumentalist Aaron Arntz is like a musical Wizard of Oz, joining the core four-man group live on a rack of keyboards and effects—only added to the awe, introducing flute, clarinet, chimes and an ominichord (an autoharp) to its arsenal of instruments. Sprawling and cinematic at every turn, the Grizzlys gave old material its due but stuck mainly to songs from its two latest records, shifting back and forth through bouncy renditions of "A Simple Answer," "While You Wait For Others," Yet Again" and, of course, runaway hit "Two Weeks." All the while, as if powered by the precision and prowess of the band, those lanterns rose and fell, cascading through various lighting patterns in time with the music.
Only after almost an hour-and-a-half of straight performance did the crew break for an encore, reigniting the adoring crowd with the '60s high-school-dance-slow-song "Knife," a last burst of energy on "On a Neck, On a Spit" and finally a gorgeous acoustic rendition of "All We Ask." As the lanterns made one last descent to their final place of rest, Grizzly Bear also laid to rest any notion that all the instruments, atmospherics and stage craft held sway over their appeal. They sound just as good with nothing more than a set of bongos, an acoustic guitar and those golden pipes of theirs.