Grizzly Bear at First Avenue, 10/1/12

Grizzly Bear at First Avenue, 10/1/12
Kyle Matteson

Grizzly Bear
with Lower Dens
First Avenue Mainroom
October 1, 2012

In more ways than one, it felt like Grizzly Bear pulled out all the stops at First Avenue on Monday night. There were, of course, all the vocal acrobatics and complex arrangements that could be expected from them. But they also had an elaborate light show, the stage surrounded by gauzy lanterns and almost perpetually awash with bright colors. It was, at times, quite breathtaking.

And yet...

There often seems to be an "and yet" with Grizzly Bear, and on Monday, the show (which was a good show) was true to form. In this case, tellingly, it felt as much like an art installation as it did like a concert.

See Also:
CANT, Mirror Mirror, and Blood Orange at the Entry, 10/15/11
Hot House Flowers: Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear sip mint juleps and lemonade out at their yellow house

After all, the Brooklyn quartet always feels a little hard to peg down. Their music can be a little enigmatic at times, true. But it can also be rather frustrating, prone to meandering and feeling too showy, even self-indulgent. Perhaps that's why they seem to be so strangely polarizing among music fans, particularly those of the indie variety; either they're too cute to tolerate, or everything they do is amazing.

Not surprisingly, the crowd that filled the Mainroom last night (and "fill" should be taken literally here, for it felt at-capacity) fell largely in the latter camp, held at breathless attention for most of the show--save for when they opted to sing along, that is. Things started a little slowly, but they soon picked up, and all in all the show Grizzly Bear put played to their strengths and minimized some of their more distracted habits.

It might have helped that the setlist drew heavily on their recently-released new album, Shields. In fact, the main set was bookended by two new songs, "Speaking in Rounds" on the front end and "Sun in Your Eyes" on the other. Those new songs are as dense as any the band has recorded, which perhaps means they're not as immediately accessible as they could be, but onstage the extra nuance seemed to be an asset. On a song like "Sun," the build-up felt almost operatic--just the kind of pay-off you would expect from a band with such baroque tendencies.

Of course, that might be the thing about Grizzly Bear right there: pay off. The highlights of the night were still their more popular songs, ones like "Two Weeks" and "The Knife," which opened the encore. (Both, coincidentally, sung by Ed Droste, who was warm and engaging, whereas Daniel Rossen was rather dour-looking. Perhaps he was just that focused.) On each, as well as new single "Sleeping Ute," there was a real groove that percolated below the surface, just begging to get built up. But instead of doing that, the band usually threw in a cliffhanger, or some other little wrinkle to throw things in a different direction--usually a spacey interlude. Call that inspired or call that pretension, but either way it tends to leave things feeling a little clipped.

Then again, if any one song stood out the most Monday night, it was "Foreground." By far the most straightforward song of the night, it was just Droste singing with a piano pattering along behind. Slow and plaintive, even haunting, "Foreground" was also pretty and undeniably resonant--a rare, unfettered glimpse at the emotional heart of the band, beyond all the smoke and mirrors.

Critics Bias: I like several songs on any given Grizzly Bear album, but I also find it hard to listen through them all the way in a sitting.
The Crowd: Youngish, and very full.
Overheard in the Crowd: (Pin drops)
Random Notebook Dump: The Lower Dens opened for Grizzly Bear. I only caught their last three or four songs, which were interesting--they sounded a bit like old Galaxy 500--but it was also hard to tell how much of a spark there was.

Speaking in Rounds
Sleeping Ute
Yet Again
Ready, Able
A Simple Answer
While You Wait for the Others
What's Wrong
Two Weeks
Half Gate
Sun in Your Eyes

On a Neck, On a Spit

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