live review

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

November 21 2012
Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland

Reviewed by Chirstopher Hunt
22nd November 2012

I’ll keep the hyperbole to a minimum: Grizzly Bear are a good band. They are simply four of the world’s most talented musicians and songwriters who just happen to be in the same band. Together, they have written four albums that have just happened to severely outshine 95% of all music produced this side of 2000. Onstage, they just happen to produce one the most expansive and illustrious performances one could only ever dream of witnessing. Yes, Grizzly Bear are a good band indeed.

While (what seemed like) half the world were fawning over the amazing performance produced by Radiohead just three weeks ago, it appeared that some of us had almost completely forgotten about this remarkable band and their NZ tour; a true injustice. Grizzly Bear are four amazing albums into their career and are at the absolute peak of their powers. Witnessing this talent at such a pivotal moment in their career is a true rarity and absolute privilege that we, as New Zealanders, are not lucky enough to experience all that often. Consequently, for me, this essentially was the ‘Gig of the Year’. It did not disappoint.

With the Bruce Mason generally buzzing, Grizzly Bear took to the stage in a typically precise manner at exactly 9:00pm.  The band setup up with an unorthodox line-up where all members were positioned in a straight line across the stage. With no members in front or behind one another, it seemed to emulate how the band approach their music in regards to collaboration and equality. With Ed Dorste and Daniel Rossen handling all lead vocals from the centre, Chris Taylor and Christopher Bear completed the sound with their bass and drumming parts from the ‘flanks’ of the stage. Opening song, ‘Speak In Rounds’, perfectly phased the crowd into the gig immediately. The up-tempo and Dorste-Verse/Rossen-Chorus vocals excellently set the mood for a gig that was largely dominated by the band’s latest 'rock'-based album, Shields (the band was one song short of playing Shields in its entirety).  They steamed through a fair few initial songs, and after shredding through another Shields power-horse, ‘Sleeping Ute’, Grizzly Bear stripped things back for an old classic, ‘Lullaby’.

The thing that immediately struck me the most when they started playing was how pitch-perfect the group’s vocals are live. Grizzly Bear almost seem to be showing off their collective vocal talent which could easily rival the Beach Boys back in their prime. Coupled with each member’s unique instrument sound, Grizzly Bear seamlessly created walls of sound that are just truly remarkable and of absolute beauty. This was most evident on Veckatimest stunner, ‘Ready, Abel’. The song’s memorizing harmonisations layered over Daniel Rossen’s glistening guitar chugs produced a beautifully haunting atmosphere that was a true highlight of the gig.

The gig’s momentum just seemed to effortlessly grow and grow with each song until it reached full climax with ‘While You Wait For The Others’. As the cornerstone of their show, ‘While You Wait For The Others’, highlights everything perfect about Grizzly Bear: Chris Talyor’s bubbling and watery basslines, Rossen’s shaky vocals and exploding guitar, Dorste’s gorgeous far-away croon, and Bear’s fidgeting drum hits. Unfortunately the gig’s manifested energy was lost when the band’s touring keyboardist oddly disappeared immediately after the song, forcing the band to awkwardly banter with the audience for about four minutes which coincidently lead into the set’s least inspiring song, ‘What’s Wrong’. A very slight blemish on an incredible set, mind you. The show wound up after a well-responded-to ‘Two Weeks’ and then closing with Shields epic, ‘Sun In Your Eyes’.

After a loud encore call, the band re-emerged to play what Chris Taylor announced was a ‘new song’. It was not. It was Yellow House favourite, ‘Knife’. Taylor started the song with heavily effected falsettos that were almost as beautiful and lush as his blonde mane of hair. It was as close as the crowd got to “singing-along” and I highly doubt that there was one person who did not have a smile on their face throughout the song. The Shields-less encore closed with an intimate and acoustic version of ‘All We Ask’. The band were practically huddling together as Dorste and Taylor put down their instruments to share the mic on the final song while Rossen plucked his guitar and sang yet another chorus. It was a gasping and glorious end to what was a gasping and glorious show.

I left the show with a feeling that Grizzly Bear had just effortlessly put on one the most commanding and extraordinary shows I had seen in years. Four seemingly normal guys just letting their music do the talking. No gimmicks, no onstage meltdowns, no egos (even though they are one of the world’s most deserving bands of elevated egos).  Just four men seamlessly creating soundscapes of absolute beauty and maturity. Yes, I apologise for not keeping the hyperbole to a minimum, but when you’ve just witnessed one of the most talented and creative bands on the planet just perform, it’s impossible not to. Hopefully Grizzly Bear don't keep us waiting another eight years for their return, but if they do, last night's gig definitely has the lasting power to remain in close memory for eight years yet.

 

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Grizzly Bear
Kirin J Callinan

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