One might wonder how a four-piece band like Grizzly Bear would be able to pull off their songs live with the help of only one extra touring member. After all, their songs tend to involve many time-signature changes, multifaceted vocal harmonies and instruments ranging from guitars and keys to woodwinds and glockenspiels. However, their show at the Fox Theater last Tuesday proved their ability to not only match but also exceed their own studio musicianship in a concert setting.
Grizzly Bear surely aren’t ones to make a grand entrance. Instead, the Brooklyn quartet humbly meandered onto the stage along with their acting fifth member, briefly greeted the ecstatic crowd and got straight to business with the song “Speak In Rounds” from their new album, Shields. Right out of the gate, vocalist Ed Droste let loose his signature crooning wail with a level of tonal precision and emotive vivacity easily surpassing the LP version. Lead guitarist and co-lead vocalist Daniel Rossen soon joined in, perfectly harmonizing with his much reedier and more folky voice. Strange decorative lanterns resembling glowing spermlike jellyfish rose and danced behind the band for the remainder of the show, setting a somewhat ethereal, submarine vibe.
Rather than focusing mainly on the new album, they divvied up the time pretty evenly between their records. By the third song, they revisited the album Veckatimest with “Cheerleader,” featuring sultry supporting vocals by bassist Chris Taylor. Midway through the set, the Friend EP received some attention with “Shift.” This slow song added a nice change of pace to the set, stripped down to fingerpicked guitar work by Rossen, clarinet by Taylor and a vocal round involving all four band members. Each member’s vocals were spot on, and they meshed together stunningly considering their distinctive tones.
The variety of instrumentation was impressive, as were the musicians’ abilities to quickly switch between instruments. Droste usually clung to his omnichord but often strummed an autoharp or provided supporting guitar to Rossen’s lead, even adding distortion (almost unheard of for Grizzly Bear) on the song “A Simple Answer.” Rossen tended to favor his keys and reverb-drenched guitar, while drummer Chris Bear stuck to percussion (i.e. drums and glockenspiel). However, Taylor covered the most ground as he singlehandedly provided the woodwind section of flute, clarinet and saxophone in addition to bass. With no vocal cord wasted and any leftover gaps filled by the touring member’s sizeable rack o’ synths, their sound was certainly rounded.
If anything was left to be desired, it was stage presence. The rapport with the crowd was awkward and restricted, limited mostly to pandering to the balcony. Movement among the musicians was pretty minimal for most of the show, although Droste grooved a bit during “Gun-Shy,” which came across like a danceable chamber-surf ditty. Also, the heavy and dissonant outro to their recent single “Yet Again” had them rocking out harder than anyone familiar with their music would imagine possible.
After wrapping up with the bombastic “Sun In Your Eyes,” they were summoned back to the stage for an encore. The quality of the show was sealed with the final song “All We Ask.” Bear took a single tom and tambourine from his drum set and joined the others at center stage, with Rossen strumming an acoustic guitar and all members singing along. Percussion was reinforced by the crowd itself, which instinctively started clapping in time and kept up its rhythm for the whole song.
This concert may not have won over many new converts to the band’s fan-base, but a majority definitely came as Grizzly Bear fans and left with palpably heightened respect for the group.
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