Monday night was magical. There can be no denying it. And like anything worth truly having it didn’t come without a little adversity. There are some shows where you encounter an audience that looks strikingly similar to the band (dog/owner syndrome) and this was certainly the case at Sixth and I as I scanned the boys in tight t-shirts with messy hair covering frail physiques (it’s the frailty in Grizzly Bear that I adore) and the girls in ballet flats. I am being driven insane as the kids next to me debate the merits of living in Mt. Pleasant vs. Williamsburg after college (that’s Williamsburg in NYC for anyone over 40.) It’s not their fault really as the same conversation is likely happening all over the building given the attendees. When the unannounced openers, Violens, stride on I am thankful though. But not for long…
Their first song melds together 80’s REM flavored college radio influences to a Miracle Legion/Ocean Blue mix of jangle and high harmonies with keyboard washes. Promising. By the second song it is promise lost – as the coffee house guitar hero front man can’t help but play out sub Catherine Wheel chops. Song three has a Simple Minds/Killers gloss with mega drum fills and I think I am done taking notes on these guys. I ask the young lady next to me her thoughts to ensure I am not just being an old crank and I get the weak “so so” hand wave. Late in the set, they make sense of the keyboard player’s 80’s wedding band attire by mimicking Vampire Weekend. I shouldn’t be surprised, but yet I always am.
Soon the Grizzly Bear boys and the crew are re-arranging the stage (with it’s out of place City Paper banners on the front sides which would have been better-suited to just be at the front doors.) The drums are wedged between railings off to the right and the band is set up to play tightly together as opposed to stretching out. It’s the right decision. The last time I saw Grizzly Bear the gang looked fried from the road but here they seem healthy and reinvigorated.
I see the shadowy banjo guy which guarantees a good evening. I feel better already.
We are in for some new songs as the band are halfway through recording their new album so I will try to keep up. The boys amble onstage with the lights still up. After a minute they are finally lowered as the martial beat sets in. The bass drum is way over mic’d and the sound is spotty but it starts to come together. With Chris Taylor’s contorting whispery vocals battling with Ed Droste’s clear soar melding into a three-part harmony and simple tambourine and tom thumps we mange to go from a dodgy mix to transcendent magic in under a minute. Dan Rossen is quickly at the lead intoning “my god, that’s not the way” with a quavering intensity demanding attention. A mini guitar duel of simple leads of every note ringing out to you is separated by full band vocal surges and then the guitar interplay, more insistent with each return, brings the crowd to heavy applause. It is almost like a release from the tension as we take a collective breath.
Taylor is at it with his pedals and samplers on the floor bringing about a playful gurgle that Ed’s room-filling voice tangles with Chris Bear’s looping backing to give us all a spacey narcotic feeling of euphoria. As Bear adds whistles, a funny moment happens with Ed having little to do but shuffle until he then releases an epic “Ava Maria” style burst of unadulterated beauty that is lifted even higher by the others.
I find myself hard pressed to think of a four-some with more unique talent and inspiration as I look down from the balcony.
“Easier” brings Dan’s 60’s style troubadour with it’s gentle guitar and distorted barbs and Taylor’s clarinet rumble as he is endearingly bending down to sing into his floor mic. Ed’s gorgeous love ode fills the room before “Knife” takes center stage. In this setting it comes across as their simplest pop song – until you see Taylor on his tip toes stretching to force out the backing vocals and Rossen’s guitar waves making it accessible yet oh so strange. “For Now” has Bear at his mallets driving the 70’s AM radio rock being chopped up by odd time signatures. It is simply amazing and the magic moments are now happening too quickly to count. The finish brings a pause and a lone voice calls out from the crowd “that was sooo good.”
We all smile.
It turns out we have a lot of that still ahead of us as “Two Weeks” and it’s playful doo-wop backing and keyboards are offset by Bear’s snare snap and Droste crooning like an 80’s new romantic heart throb. Ed then cradles a harpsichord as Rossen plays in “Lullabye,” with the rest of the band mimicking a creaky house and fitful sleep until the closing cadence is met with unhinged drums and bassy clarinet rumbles rattling the boards as Ed and Dan sing for their lives.
By “Shift” everyone is a little disheveled and you can see what the performance takes out of the collective whole. Taylor’s whistling running into the trading of melancholy high notes makes me realize that this is what “forlorn” sounds like, this is what “longing” sounds like. Ed grabs a recorder backed by the primal drum thump of “Fix It” as they surge and pull like a stop/start conversation or fitful sex slowly sliding into tenderness and then into an aggressive push to climax and back into a sweet embrace, highlighted by snaps and claps. “On A Neck, On A Spit” jangles in with Dan following the train chugging beat, reading it like a mythic cowboy ballad being pulled into the stars. Somehow the mariner’s sorrow in “Deep Blue Sea” serves as an apt closer in letting the audience unwind from the tension of the evening sitting in rapt attention. Mellow and easy and complete, yet melancholy over it’s ending: The magic is over.
No encore and none needed. One of the perfect things about playing at Sixth and I is that you can leave to a standing ovation. Tonight, it is well deserved.