I know there's a lot of other things in the news right now that people would rather talk about -- moon bombing, Obama's prize, CB Bucknor, Jim + Pam, etc. -- so I'll be brief in discussing last night's Grizzly Bear show.
The Grizz are in an interesting place right now. Sure, they're nominally a hip, "indie rock" band, but their sound is pretty far removed from the Pavements, Superchunks, and Neutral Milk Hotels of the world (to say nothing of Animal Collective or Deerhunter). Their sound is densely layered and sweet and all that, but it's also just so polite, even when it gets noisy. They're really tailor-made to occupy the same cultural real estate Wilco camped out in around the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- edgy enough for the Starbucks-and-Subaru set to still feel like they haven't completely lost touch, but harmless enough for them to actually enjoy it*. The only reason I hesitate to call them "Dad Rock" is because a good portion of their latest, Veckatimest, which I really like, barely qualifies as rock at all -- more like some kind of ultra-condensed classical with guitar and vocals.
Live, though, that's not the case at all. With the exception of a couple of vocal spots by Victoria Legrand of openers Beach House, Grizzly Bear perform as a four-piece. String arrangements and horn sections are replaced by synths and guitar. Chris Taylor grabs a flute or a clarinet occasionally, but other than that they left the studio trappings at home. Absent this layer of ornateness, Grizzly Bear sounded free, unchained and unhinged in the best possible way. They were a band raucous enough to actually be able to justify apologizing (to Watertown-bred frontman Ed Droste's mom) for how loud one of their songs gets ("I Live With You"), while still preserving the essential beauty of their compositions.
With all due respect to hometown hero Droste, who dedicated each song to something Massachusetts-related ("Cheerleader" got the Arsenal Mall; "Colorado" got the Red Line), the MVBs of this particular evening were drummer Christopher Bear and co-frontman/guitarist Dan Rossen. Bear gets acknowledged for simply his ability to assert himself; most people don't think "awesome drumming" when they think of Grizzly Bear, but he was able to create a maelstrom all on his own, particularly on "Southern Point." And Rossen's uniquely reckless guitar -- he whacks a chord three times in rapid succession, with the third allowed to ring
out before the next one hits with all the rhythmic precision of someone
trying to stand on a wobbly ship -- helped puncture airholes in arrangements that would otherwise be tough to penetrate, like "Ready, Able" and "Fine for Now." Rossen also has one of the best voices in music today; he could probably sing a law text book and it'd be wonderful.
They played their new song "Slow Life" from the forthcoming New Moon soundtrack -- Droste: "It's from the sequel to Gremlins" -- with guest vocals from Legrand. As you can hear, it sounds like the sum of its parts -- the usual Grizzly Fare, only with LeGrande (who sounds like a really stoned Kim Deal) taking each verse. While some have griped about bands like Grizzly Bear (as well as St. Vincent, Bon Iver, Thom Yorke, and others) appearing on this soundtrack, I can't really say I think it's a bad thing if these guys appear on an album that's practically guaranteed to be heard by millions of teens and tweens. Hell, their dads will probably steal it to bump in their Jettas.
*Allow the record to state that this will be my demographic sooner than I'd like to acknowledge.