Last night at a sold-out First Avenue, indie titans Grizzly Bear delivered the standout performance that their dedicated (and burgeoning) fanbase was undoubtedly longing for.
Visually and sonically, the show was exceptional. The Brooklyners' vocal talents are undeniable, and after nearly a decade of band-dom, their playing is tighter than ever. Touring in support of such an artistically interesting release (last month's “Shields”), it’s certain that they’re not merely coasting on the success of 2009 breakout LP “Veckatimest.” The plus side to all of this information is that you’re getting what you came to see. The negative is that inevitably, there’s not much room for any surprises. Ultimately, this made for an evening that was lackluster.
Ed Droste didn’t have to work (at all) to capture his audience, because the moment the gentle resonance of his unmistakable vocals led into “Speaking in Rounds,” they were wide-eyed in the palm of his hand for the entirety of the lengthy set. Drawing a fair amount from “Shields,” listeners witnessed a new realm of Grizzly Bear, one built upon more substantial improvisation. This aspect of the performance was genuinely compelling. “Sleeping Ute” highlighted this uncut element well, and on several other tracks we were privileged to jams that were on par with the fuzziest of garage bands - a far cry from the melancholy, wintry dream sequence that characterizes many Grizzly Bear tracks. Even though the gentleman next to me, who repeatedly yelled out “Gnaw my face off Droste! Yeahhh!,” had seemingly tapped into some face-melting, rock ’n’ roll assault quality of Grizzly Bear, this new-found loudness fell somewhat short.
Naturally, popular songs like “Two Weeks,” “Knife” and “While We Wait For the Others” provoked a huge response from the crowd, much of this was let out via moderate head-bobbing (watch out!). The band ended up shining the brightest on more unassuming tracks. Both “Foreground” and “Gun-shy” packed a real musical and emotional punch, demonstrating precisely how subdued music doesn’t have to translate into a total snooze-fest. Their set, encore and all, crept up near the two-hour mark and for all purposes, left many starry-eyed and reveling in the actualization of their deepest Drosteian fantasies.
It’s hard to grumble about a performance that was in every sense good, but it may come from the fact that in terms of Grizzly Bear, what you see is exactly what you get. And though that may be worth $35, it certainly isn’t priceless.