Grizzly Bear House of Blues April 9, 2013
The best move that Grizzly Bear made Tuesday night was possibly their only move. What I imagined to be electric-light squids danced high and low in time as lights flashed in bursts, the band frozen silhouettes in the foreground.
The music was at moments pounding and purposeful, then in others seeping like a mist and highly confessional. But through it all an intense stillness. The packed house swayed and weaved, transfixed by the spectacle before them like it was an illuminated homing beacon.
All of these arena-rock trappings seem very peculiar for someone who has only ever heard Grizzly Bear on their recordings. In fact, at first I was a bit put off by it (also, this may have been grumps due to mistakenly double-booking myself on my own birthday). But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.
Sure, maybe a song like "Sleeping Ute" is easily painted up for Easter with timed light effects, and that doesn't make it any less striking. But the oozing synth of "Adelma" seemed too intimate for all this pomp at first. But the longer I was immersed, the more it all came together.
Here was a textbook Pitchfork band (I mean that with all love and respect) playing to a possibly sold-out House of Blues and totally crushing it. ((If anyone can confirm that it was sold out, please do so in the comments.) I for one had a heck of a time getting in, pushing through a very drunk crowd of disgruntled would-be concert goers, some flashing cash at the doormen. My cries of "but I'm on the list!" were heard by one kind security worker, and I am very grateful (here's to you, sir).
What is so remarkable about this show possibly being sold out is that Grizzly Bear records, to me, have always been the stuff of Sunday mornings. Mellow and non-confrontational, they were like an audio hug for a hungover head. How possibly, could this make a successful translation to the big room at HOB?
But for over an hour Tuesday night, these boys from Brooklyn proved it could be done. Making effective use of the light show visuals. They weren't just playing "with" the songs, they became part of the songs. Where most bands might just use their stage presence to bring life to their sets, Grizzly Bear, the musicians, took a back seat to the immersive audio/visual spectacular that was the true presentation.
Granted, neither vocalist, Edward Droste or Daniel Rossen, is particularly gifted at stage banter. They kept it short and sweet, yet enthusiastic, while mentioning that they were happy to be in Houston for the first time (which I really believed; there was a lot of love in the crowd for the band), and while introducing opening act Owen Pallet as he joined them on "What's Wrong" and "Half Gate."
But it doesn't really matter one way or another if the visual aspect is merely a solution to a diminished stage presence or if the entire thing is a contrivance. The important thing is that it makes for a strong impression.
Is it odd that I have so much praise for what's essentially a light show? Perhaps it's that I've seen many bands lean heavily on lighting effects, and some do it quite fantastically, but always it was as an afterthought. In those case the songs had independent lives, but last night, it felt like all the aspects of the performance were so thoughtfully assembled, the entire experience was remains indelible as I'm re-listening to the songs this morning.
In true rock and roll fashion, they saved "the hit" ("Two Weeks") until right at the very end. If you had told me I would be seeing people "going apeshit" for Grizzly Bear, I wouldn't have believed you.
I mean, enthusiastic applause, sure, but Beatlemania level screaming? Maybe it wasn't as widespread, but it was definitely present when those tinkling piano notes were struck. Though all the "whoa"'s were a bit reminiscent of church camp, but that's just my personal baggage.
In a blink of an eye, the band was back onstage for the encore. Sadly, but understandably, they made do with less of the visuals that I had so enjoyed and just went full-blast with the lights. But hey, this is the fun part for the bands and fans, right? Cut loose, as loose as you will allow yourself that is (band = semi-loose, audience = about 9/10 loose), and have a good time. That's what I did.
Personal Bias: Embarrassingly, I quite often mix up Grizzly Bear and Beach House in my head, but I think both are quite lovely bands, so fair enough, right? Also, I was a bit of a whiny teenager about leaving my friends at my birthday get-together to go to House of Blues, but this morning it was worth it... except for the Kamikaze shot. That wasn't.
The Crowd: A lot more strait-laced than I was expecting. And a bit older, too. I had expected more "Saturday Afternoon in Montrose" types, but it was House of Blues, so that might explain the "I wear the finest of clothes, I eat in the finest of restaurants" folks. Also, lots of bros and their lady friends. But I stopped being surprised by bros at big indie-rock shows after the "Modest Mouse/puffy vest/visor" epidemic of '04.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I'm taking the Vette to Galveston this weekend." I got the feeling that there were a lot of "second cars" owned by the concertgoers; my guess is the first car is a Volkswagen.
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Random Notebook Dump: "Groovin' on grandpa's farm in upstate NY"; "This is North Pole music." I suppose both would adequately describe the music of Grizzly Bear. There is also something about a "frumpy brunette in winter clothes, FUCK THAT!" -- I really can't remember why I wrote that, but it seemed important.