Grizzly Bear has caught some flack on this blog, but the jury was still out for me going into last night’s show. I bought Yellow House a few weeks ago, and while I had listened to it through a few times and found it intriguing (if not exactly catchy), I was not convinced enough to drop $9.99 on Veckatimest (or the other one, or the EP). It wasn’t that Grizzly Bear’s brand of wafting psychedelia turned me off; it was that after each listen I came away having absorbed nothing—not a single lyric, theme, or idea. I would listen again, straining to concentrate on the music, finding this impossible. For all its entrancing dynamics, the music just didn’t have any handholds. I wanted to ride along, but it kept slipping away.
So as far as I was concerned, Grizzly Bear was on trial last night. The courtroom: The 9:30 Club, packed thick with an audience of breezy post-adolescents reveling in June’s redefinition of Monday night.
Things did not start auspiciously. The opener, Here We Go Magic, confirmed my fears about how hypnotic, post-structural indie rock would play live to a hall full of people who seemed high on little but a glass and a half of Old Rasputin. With each song, Here We Go Magic appeared to follow the same protocol: Build a wall of sound, then drag it an arbitrary distance. Hearing these songs unfold was kind of like watching a wave gather itself without ever breaking. The full set, accordingly, felt like staring at the ocean.
Grizzly Bear came out strong, bathed in blue and violet stage lights. If Here We Go Magic was like watching the ocean, Grizzly Bear was like watching the ocean during a storm: bigger swells, more variegated, more dramatic, occasionally peaking with piercing guitar trills. The most impressive aspect of their sound by far was the vocal, which featured (primarily) three voices with three distinct timbres: Daniel Rossen‘s wood-solid tenor, Christopher Bear’s quavering one, and Chris Taylor‘s soaring falsetto—the latter two benefiting from some serious reverb on the mic. Grizzly Bear definitely shares some alleles with Fleet Foxes in the post-Beach Boys lineage. But where Fleet Foxes’s songs are grounded in folk music’s inherent respect for structure, Grizzly Bear seems tethered by nothing at all.
Which, when you’re trying to hold someone’s attention for an hour and a half, is like fishing without a hook. Sure enough, after about 35 minutes I found myself glancing compulsively at my cell phone. Even in a storm, you can’t stare at the ocean for too long without growing weary of its motion.