all words: Ross Bonaime, all photos: Lauren Bulbin
Touring together through June, Grizzly Bear and The xx is a fantastic pairing of indie greats that ended their dates together Sunday at Merriweather Post Pavilion. There had been the possibility of storms all day, but as the incredible double header began, the clouds parted for a great night of some mellow, yet beautiful music, and one of the best pairings of bands to tour this area in a while.
When the lineup times were released, I’ll admit I was surprised that Grizzly Bear would be opening for The xx and not the other way around. Both bands are still touring off their 2012 releases, Grizzly Bear’s Shields and The xx’s Coexist, and it felt like Shields received much more attention to me than The xx’s sophmore album. But another surprise was that only about half of the pavilion was full when Grizzly Bear took the stage, clearly a horrible choice.
Having Grizzly Bear perform at the sun is setting and a nice night breeze is starting is the ideal setting to see them. They started off with four of Shields’ strongest songs, “Speak In Rounds,” “Sleeping Ute,” and “Yet Again,” which ended in a flash of light and noise. During “A Simple Answer,” Chris Taylor even got on the clarinet, which I almost guarantee is the only time a clarinet has been played by a musician wearing an inside out Black Flag tee.
Grizzly Bear’s stage arrangement featured several glowing jellyfish looking devices hanging above them, changing the stage with various warm colors. The middle of their set was filled with older favorites, such as “Knife,” while Edward Droste played the omnichord on “Ready, Able” and all of Grizzly Bear showed their fantastic harmony skills on “While You Wait For The Others.” After they played their most popular song, “Two Weeks,” Taylor commented how there is always one song during every performance that causes the weed smell to start wafting through the show, and tonight for them, it was “Two Weeks,” as it should be.
As they finished up their set back at Shields with “Half Gate” and “Sun In Your Eyes,” I realized just how loud Grizzly Bear could be. I mean listening to their albums, they always reflect a more jazzy feel that rock, but live, they go crazy with the volume and lights much more than expected.
Grizzly Bear is the perfect band to have playing during a sunset, but The xx, they were made for the night. As great as their two albums have been, I was curious to see how they would translate on the stage. Even though xx and Coexist are good, they both are albums I almost have to listen to in pieces. For me, a little The xx can go a long way.
It wasn’t a surprise at all when The xx took to a completely dark stage, with Jamie Smith towering over Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim on his huge drum set up, mostly consisting of electronic drums with some various actual drums scattered throughout. I expected that The xx might play in darkness for their entire set, but it was fascinating to watch their stage grow in colors and lights as the set went on, unraveling in flashing strobes and various hues.
“Try” started their set in darkness, but as Jamie xx started “Heart Skipped A Beat,” lights in the background beat to his drum machine. “Crystallized” slowed down the song even more, with more lights appearing, but by “Reunion,” the stage was filled with purple spotlights, and pulsing white and pink lights. “Sunset” even made the set look like it was covered in…well sunlight.
While Romy and Oliver are expectedly great, it’s clear that Jamie is the heart of the band, lifting them to a level that they would have never been at without him. The xx can almost feel too slow for me at times, but with Jamie’s drums every song is a blast. It also doesn’t hurt that The xx have one of the best light shows, utilizing their visuals to describe what is occurring in their music rather than just to be flashy.
I never really expected to see an entire audience dancing to “Shelter,” “VCR,” and “Islands,” but the crowd was feeling every new beat that Jamie was playing. They ended their set with “Infinity,” which almost felt reminiscent of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand,” and left the stage as a giant “X” made of lasers appeared before them.
When they did come back, they came back with even more gusto, getting the audience excited about hearing “Intro,” and ending the night with “Angels,” one of the few times Jamie played real drums, but was a very effective way to end the show.
The Grizzly Bear/The xx combo was a phenomenal show duo, letting the former end the day and the latter to delve into the night.
………………. and some more photos now….