Grizzly Bear @ Bowery Ballroom, 3-6-07
I like to think I have a special connection to Grizzly Bear. They were starting to gather acclaim at the same time I was starting this blog. Their album, Yellow House, was one of the first I lavished praise on and they were the first band to blurb me on their website. They were the first band I interviewed too. When I later wrote up a review of their concert that was good if not glowing, Ed Droste even went out of his way to email me and apologize. No need, I said, I'll be back next time you tour and see you again. Of course I knew that the four guys in the band were among the nicest in indie rock and have forged relationships with just about any blogger that asked. And I know that they're famous enough now that it doesn't matter what I write if it ever did. Still, I do truly love this band and I love their album, so I was more than happy to keep my promise.
In a way, this show was a bookend to the earlier one in San Francisco, as Jason Robert Quever's Papercuts once again opened. His adapation to performing was pretty astounding, rendering his formerly hushed, reverent and slightly limp set into a powerhouse. Suddenly, he took sharp command of the stage, making every song feel alive and momentous. It was enjoyable and fitting foreshadowing to the headliner. Because Grizzly Bear too, from their first sinewy note issued from Chris Taylor's flute, demonstrated that this would be a band newly in control. They took all of the successful elements from their earlier show and promptly proceeded to maximize, magnify and blow them away.
The most noteworthy aspect is that their live set sounds very little like either Horn of Plenty or Yellow House. The recorded songs are merely jumping off points into grander, louder, more muscular entities designed explicitly for the stage. They're reinvented as much as they're reenergized, engaging the listener in wholly different ways from the more mellow, insular albums. Another surprise for me was how often Dan Rossen took the mic, singing lead handily and confidently. It only confirmed the impression that Grizzly Bear could do whatever they wanted and pull it off.
Like, fill stadiums for instance. Their sound was large and full enough to entertain row after bloated row of lighter-waving groupies. For now though, the grandeur was limited to a sold-out, appropriately adoring hometown crowd at the Bowery. Some of the set's highlights included "On A Neck, On A Spit," which became amped up and more hectic than usual, giving it a newfound sense of momentum. "Knife" was both a crowd-pleaser and a thriller, most notably enhanced by Taylor's otherworldily falsetto mating calls. And "Little Brother" was yet another show-stealer, the titular sibling becoming rebellious and self-assured in this incarnation. Its guitar riffs spiraled out boldly and wildly, completing the band's transformation from avant-folksters to bonafide rock stars.
Every time Grizzly Bear returns, they manage to outdo themselves and explode any idea of limitations. They're as enthralling and exciting as ever, even as they're still clearly coming into their own. Where they'll land next remains to be seen, but I'm guessing that some of the live energy and fleshed-out sound will bleed into their third album. What is guaranteed though is that I won't be missing Grizzly Bear the next time they hit a nearby stage, so I can follow their evolution firsthand.
* MP3: "Granny Diner" - Grizzly Bear
* MP3: "Knife/Heartbeats" - Grizzly Bear vs. The Knife by PARRKA [Buy other Grizzly Bear]
* Band Website: Grizzly Bear