by Brad Roberts
There are certain concerts that reverberate through your head for days. Accompanied by a buoyancy of spirit that such profound fulfilment can bring. It certainly puts a bounce in my step. Wondrous spectacle, fragile delicacy punctuated by crescendos of sweeping bombast and the hypnotically chaotic compositions that somehow all pull together under the creamy harmonies of their beautiful voices. That's a Grizzly Bear concert!
I felt serendipity was on my side when I started to climb the long hill up from Los Feliz Boulevard to The Greek and the kindly Joe Napolitano and Jillinda Palmer took pity on the elderly gentleman trudging slowly up the sidewalk. They pulled over and gave me a ride the rest of the way. I knew the night would be good right then and there.
The weather was perfect for a Fall night, but frankly, if it got cold, no one noticed. I had a good seat in the front section so was just as glad I wasn't in the overcrowded pit, which looked like it was filled with some of Los Angeles' tallest music fans.
I only saw some of the Lower Dens opening set, but it sounded pretty and an appropriate thematic lead in for Grizzly Bear. By the time the headliners came on stage, right on schedule at 8:45, all the seats had filled up. Ambient chords washed out over the crowd, kind of like a monochromatic overture, as fog and lights wrapped the stage in a bluish glow and odd ghostly figures with sad eyes slowly rose from the stage into the air.
Christopher Bear, Daniel Rossen and Chris Taylor have been Grizzly Bear for about six years now, as both performers and writers, and I've seen them grow from Spaceland to The Troubadour to The Walt Disney Concert Hall to The Wiltern to The Hollywood Palladium. In fact, the last time I saw them was three years ago at The Palladium and it was a big disappointment because the sound was awful, all arena thump and way too bass heavy. Removed all the nuance and basically ruined their music.
But I also knew The Greek would be a perfect place to restore their integrity and that they did. Obviously their new album Shields has had an impact already because as soon as the low thumps of "Speaking in Rounds" began, the audience rose to its feet and squealed in delight. We never sat down again. Next, they went backward to the first song on the album, the single "Sleeping Ute" and it's propulsive beat which breaks mid-way to reveal a delicate reverie at the center.
From then on it was a journey back to previous albums with new songs strategically placed for maximum impact. I was glad they sang so much from Veckatimest including album favorites like "Cheerleader", "Two Weeks" and the challenging "While You Wait For The Others", but they covered all but one song from Shields. With the aid of an additional keyboardist, Aaron Arntz, who made the band a five-piece, they were able to fill out their sound to a near-perfect recreation of the recordings.
This is one of those bands that, no matter how good they sound on record, they are even better in person. The singing is stronger, the orchestrations more grandiose, and the emotional impact more... impactful. There's little between-song nonsense as they get down to the serious business of creating a nearly elusive balance between psychedelic rock and art-rock, accompanied by a visual presentation that hypnotizes the audience.
The singular light-hearted moment came when Ed commented, "It sure smells like the audience is having a good time". Yes, the air was filled with a fragrant aroma. Contact highs were epidemic. It was wonderful to hear them go all the way back to Horn of Plenty for "Shift", which they had rearranged for the full band on their EP release of 2007, Friends and presented here live. From Yellow House came "Lullaby" and, during the encores, "Knife" which features Chris Taylor's extraterrestrial puppy yelps.