Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Grizzly Bear roars into Houston (belated)

Now, almost "two weeks" more than three weeks later, I wanted to jot down some thoughts from Grizzly Bear's stirring performance at the House of Blues in Houston on April 9. Yes, the band has moved on to play a couple weekends at Coachella and beyond by now, but I'm going to indulge myself all the same.

Grizzly Bear, with jelly fish
Grizzly Bear is probably my favorite band that I have started listening to in the last four years or so. Prior to the release latest record, Shields, they had played only a handful of shows and had not toured at all. I was as excited to see them as I have been for any band in recent memory.

They did not disappoint, in fact, it's one of those shows that I just can't get out of my head.

From the opening mellow thrums of "Speak in Rounds," I was hooked. This was Grizzly Bear's first venture to Houston - "I don't know what took us so long," Ed Droste said as they came on stage.

As the song transitioned into the empty-desert noise of "Adelma," a single lantern-like jellyfish sculpture started rising from behind the stage. It was followed by a bloom of friends, slowly ascending with orange lights inside pulsing, pumping like capillaries. After a couple minutes there were probably 12 of them, staggered, flickering from a great height.

Suddenly, the band launched into "Sleeping Ute," the audacious standout from Shields. The down beat hits so hard; impossible not to convulse, glowing jelly fish peering down upon you.

Singer Ed Droste shyly let it be known that it was the first time they had tried the jelly fish stunt, and admitted he was glad it didn't turn into a "Stonehenge" moment. It only struck me later that it so could have...

On to the delicate reverb of "Cheerleader," and the shape of a Grizzly Bear concerts starts to emerge. It's a dynamic very apparent on their albums that translates well to the stage - noisy complexity in one moment soothed by crooning harmonies in the next.

The next song, "Lullabye," took my a bit by surprise. It's one of my favorites, but I never really envisioned it as part of the live performance. It was everything I could have hoped for. The first part of the plays just as the title suggests - a waltzy sleep riff, that all disappears a few minutes deep with a jarring scrape across the guitar strings. A menacing dissonance pounding down - "chin up! cheer up!" - as the jelly fish stand poised in formation, gleaming through the nightmare stage fog. Incredible.

They whistled and strummed through much of their catalogue, playing nearly every track from Shields. In a moment of mini revelation, I realized that the album is not quite as amazing as I first thought. I still listen to it, love it, obsess over it. But I found myself getting slightly bored during many of those numbers, while the songs from earlier records were the ones that really got the juices flowing.

One final observation, since I was so tardy on posting this... The other night my wife and I watched the movie Blue Valentine, which is very good. Wrenching and difficult, but quite powerful, all the more so because Grizzly Bear provides the score, mostly from the Yellow House album, with at least one Department of Eagles song thrown in as well. There is one song on the soundtrack, though, that I did not recognize from any album. However, I'm almost certain they played it in Houston (the whistling was familiar). It was a strange song at the time, but cool. Droste thanked us all for being "an attentive Houston crowd," since it was hardly a danceable number.

And while we're talking movie tie-ins, Grizzly Bear's music also figures heavily into a film called Jack Goes Boating, which is excellent, and, I would argue, makes better use of the tunes (not the Blue Valentine does a bad job... you know). It's Phillip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut, so it obviously deserves to be watched. Just saying.

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