ABC, Glasgow, Mon 2 Nov 2009
Some bands hook you into their music with a sentiment you can identify with, an experience shared, a witty line; some do it with a catchy chorus or a neat hook; then there are (very few) bands like Grizzly Bear, who capture your mind unaware with sheer, beautiful sound. A most musical of bands in the truest sense of the world, you can see why the genre-benders have dubbed them ‘chamber pop’ –the arrangements, the structures, the musicianship, all are reminiscent of orchestral music.
Live, it’s all about deference to the music: with all four band members sharing vocal duties, there are no frontman egos to detract from the sound, nor do lyrics provide much of a distraction – most of the time it matters little what they’re singing, much more memorable is the aural impression left by the words. The crowd, too, are rapt by the sound – incredibly, following a brilliant, understated performance of woozy gem ‘Deep Blue Sea’ that was surely a highlight of the set, Edward Droste meekly thanks us for listening to a song that they ‘don’t play that often’.
Giving a cursory listen to a Grizzly Bear record, you might expect their live show to be beautiful, but wispy and ethereal. It’s not – the live Bear is a rougher, meatier beast, definitely more solid, and yet still possessed of a coarse kind of beauty. All sorts of elements come to the fore that you never noticed before, and listening to the same songs later you suddenly wonder how you never picked up on that bit that sounds like a sword fight in the background of ‘Two Weeks’, or the way the vocals sometimes sound like they’re being sung underwater.
After a set that lasts over an hour but seems like a few minutes, the band return for an encore consisting of a single song – a cover of The Crystals’ ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)’. It’s an awkward choice and as an ending it’s surreal and haunting - and the perfect way to finish such an accomplished and unique performance.