Cuddly Grizzly Bear

November 21, 2012 § 2 Comments

Grizzly Bear play the State Opera House.

Grizzly Bear play the Wellington State Opera House. Photo courtesy of @fantalefm.

Grizzly Bear is an anomaly and I mean that in a really good way. The band from New York gets called indie rock but given how its music confounds and transgresses the rules of so much that is stereotypical about rock, that label does it a disservice and blinkers the sparkling music it makes.

There were times last night when Grizzly Bear sounded a bit like the Fleet Foxes, or 70s progressive rock, or abstractly jazzy with elements of Kurt Weill thrown in. But none of these tangential references are really remotely accurate. Grizzly Bear sound like Grizzly Bear and there’s no one else around who can come close to what these guys are doing.

Many bands have gifted and talented singers – think Radiohead, The National, Vampire Weekend, Beach House, Lawrence Arabia, Phoenix Foundation – but how many have an embarrassment of riches like Grizzly Bear with three fine vocalists interchanging and harmonising?

They are multi-instrumentalists too, adding textures with flute, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, lap steel and piano. It is rock music that sounds like nothing and everything, a hypnotic pop sensitivity that shifts from swagger to dreaminess in a heartbeat, and there’s nothing else to do but surrender to the swelling drama of the music.

I had a deep feeling the band would make its weirdly idiosyncratic albums sound even better on stage and that’s exactly how it happened. Grizzly Bear is a different animal live – so adept at changing the mood and feeling of a song. Heard in the flesh, the music is taut and elastic and it sounded pristine in a venue that celebrates its 100 anniversary next year. Seeing artists play at the State Opera House sells itself but when it happens to be musicians of this kind of calibre, the whole experience becomes exquisite.

Grizzly Bear last night played songs mainly from its most recent albums, Shields and Veckatimest. Songs like Two Weeks, Ready Able, Yet Again, Gun Shy, Half Gate swooped and soared while A Simple Answer came chugging out majestically, showing just why these guys are currently so highly cherished by fans and critics everywhere.

Part of the anomaly that is Grizzly Bear is that it sounds like a cult indie band but one that smashed the charts when its second to last album, Veckatimest, soared to eighth on the Billboard 200 charts in 2009.

Grizzly Bear is so hot right now. There’s a rare chemistry at work here – not the kind that creates an explosion but the kind that makes rare, swirling colours. It was such an extraordinary treat to see the band play Wellington for its first time. It helps that Grizzly Bear comes across as a band of friends who are enjoying a long moment in the sun and as long as that moment lasts, there’s so much to love about these five guys from Brooklyn.

I took some video. The first one (Yet Again) is only 17 seconds long because one of attendant Nazis rushed over to tell me to stop. The second one (Two Weeks) was done guerilla-style and it shows but at least the sound is clear.

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§ 2 Responses to Cuddly Grizzly Bear

  • john heighes says:

    Nice review Charles. Last night kind of left me lost for words. I experienced a few pretty profound moments and was really very happy to be reminded of the transforming power of genuinely majestic music. What a very cool unfathomable band. Hope they come back soon cos I want to do that all over again!

    • Charles Mabbett says:

      Thank you for reading the post, John! It was a wonderful show. I’ve been running into others who were also there and they were just as moved.

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