Last Saturday, Grizzly Bear performed to a nearly sold out crowd at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. Drawing mostly from their amazing 2009 album Veckatimest and their excellent new album Shields, the band played for about 90 minutes, sending the crowd home with four-part-harmony chills.
Grizzly Bear started out as the bedroom project of lead singer Ed Droste and expanded to a full band following the release of 2004’s Horn of Plenty. For 2006’s Yellow House, Droste recruited Daniel Rossen, multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor, and drummer Christopher Bear. Much has been said about how increasingly “democratic” the Grizzly Bear project is. The four members of the band play in a straight line as opposed to the normal set up in which the drummer backs up the band. Moreover, Rossen and Taylor have individual side projects as solo artists and producers, lending their unique voices to Grizzly Bear’s output.
Rossen is perhaps the musical MVP of 2012 (perhaps along with El-P) both for his contributions on Shields and for his great EP released earlier this year, Silent Hour/Golden Mile. The Rossen-led tracks, such as the new “Sleeping Ute” and “A Simple Answer” and the classic “While You Wait For the Others,” translated brilliantly live.
All of the band members have certainly improved as musicians since 2009: Taylor’s saxophone added sonic depth to epic Shields-closer “Sun In Your Eyes” and Bear’s perfect-tone drumming supplied tracks like “Yet Again” with simultaneous stability and urgency.
Yet, the most chilling moments of the set came during its quietest moments: Droste’s rich voice echoing throughout the Orpheum during dark Veckatimest-closer “Foreground,” Taylor’s talk-box pseudo-Peter Frampton vocals woah-ohing during “Knife,” and the stunning encore closer, an acoustic version of clap-along “All We Ask.”
The band’s increasingly deep catalogue almost makes one forget that the biggest audience cheer came when they played their best pure pop song, “Two Weeks,” towards the end of the first set. The band is drawing increasing comparisons to Radiohead for both their serene sound and unpredictable output. Grizzly Bear’s diverse influences, ranging from jazz to Latin guitar music to likely Radiohead themselves, are allowing the band to develop a unique, unmistakable sound that should start to make them, in addition to Radiohead, a base for comparison and an ideal to which up-and-coming bands strive.