photos and review by Benjamin Mobley
It was a dark, stormy Seattle night outside as eager concertgoers waited for Grizzly Bear, an all-male chamber-pop quartet, to take the stage of the Moore Theatre on Friday, October 16th, in support of their latest release, Veckatimest. For a lush and complex album mostly recorded in the intimacy of a Cape Cod cottage, the cuts from Veckatimest made a seemingly effortless transition to the live setting due largely to the varied musical talents of multi-instrumentalists Chris Taylor, Ed Droste, Dan Rossen, and Chris Bear.
“In the end, you’ll never find me now.”
The opening song, the jazz-tinged “Southern Point,” is a perfect example of Grizzly Bear at their finest -- soaring multi-layered vocal lines laid over intricate guitar work that is ultimately nuanced by Chris Taylor’s magical textures and Chris Bear’s masterful percussion. The framework for the evening had been laid down in just a few minute’s time and, if the opening was to be any indication, the Brooklyn-based foursome were going to deliver a beautiful, haunting, raucous, and colorfully wild ride to the finish.
Sharing primary vocal duties throughout the performance, songwriters Droste and Rossen transported their attentive listeners to a universe comprised of aural meditations on loss, love, and regret. As the band moved deftly and swiftly from each song to the next, their combined talents became even more apparent -- nowhere in sight were technicians to assist in alternate tunings or instrument swaps. Chris Taylor, the busiest bee of the lot, exhibited fluidity and prowess while manning the helm on bass guitar, clarinet, flute, bass clarinet, and electronics.
“dig his grave, darlin, with a silver spade”
The first and only real break in the show’s opening flow came mid-set during the haunting “Deep Blue Sea.” A traditional American folk song, the Rossen interpretation first appeared on the band’s Friend EP before more recently showing up as a Grizzly Bear contribution to the Dark Was the Night compilation.
On stage at the Moore, Rossen’s vocal delivery of the tune was clearer and even more pristine than either of the aforementioned recordings while tragically relaying the tale of a father, mother, and son who meet their watery demise. Rossen’s lead was beautifully supported by drummer Bear, who alternated to keyboard duties for the tune. Finishing touches for this unforgettable moment were added by Droste’s autoharp and Taylor’s bass clarinet work, the reedy timbre of which more closely resembled the bellow of a pipe organ. The effect was quite a fitting impression considering the Roman “high tau” cross supports from which light-filled mason jars dangled in the often colorful and blinding church of Grizzly.
“hope i’m ready, able to make my own”
Shifting back into their earlier mood, the band continued with the relentless “Ready, Able.” Taylor’s methodical and driving bass work stood in direct opposition to Droste’s feathery main vocal, accenting the tune with a sometimes-sweet, sometimes-not feel and contrasting the otherworldly flourishing sounds of unseen angelic harps. The gentlemen continued to expound on this equation, riffing effortlessly through “I Live With You,” “Foreground,” and “While We Wait for the Others.”
To conclude their performance, Grizzly Bear played “On a Neck, On a Spit,” a brilliant cut from their prior album, Yellow House. The track’s opening shanty-like lilt ultimately gave way as the song built and climaxed into a bar-room, brawl-like frenzy -- a feeling imparted primarily by Bear’s exacting percussion work. It was at this point that I and the other Grizzly congregationalists in attendance gave way to dancing in our seats; drumming our knees and thighs until the song faded back into the same ether it had materialized from.
Offering only one encore, Grizzly Bear returned to the stage to perform a cover of The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)” -- an interesting closer, considering the song’s domestic violence subject matter. In a sense, Grizzly Bear’s interpretation of the song served as a reminder that we, the audience, had been walloped with a rare hour-and-a-half concert experience that, in the end, felt like all-too brief of a kiss.
With the final whispers of traceable audio rising into the Moore’s intricately beautiful dome, the spell-binding experience was over and the audience was returned to the dark night from which they had come.
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