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Grizzly Bear’s concert last night at the Orpheum Theatre put me in a position where I was seeing a band days after the release of new material. In preparation, I spent the last few days forcibly familiarizing myself with their 4th full-length album, Shields, released on September 18th. Grizzly Bear’s albums tend to be “growers”, revealing themselves overtime. I sped this process up in preparation for the concert, and quickly realized that Shields is a brilliantly sophisticated album.
Opening for Grizzly Bear last night was the New Zealand psych-rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. According to the band, their friends call them “UMO”, and I am going to refer to them as such… mostly because I wish they were my friends (my “Ffunny Ffrends” perhaps?). The theatre had yet to fill when UMO started, but the band filled in the gaps with the monstrous wall of sound they created with merely three instruments. They played amidst a stage flooded with Grizzly Bear’s equipment, offering a visually striking contrast that felt like a statement of simplicity. UMO ended their set with an impressive psychedelic freak-out that the girl in front of me summarized saying, “that was crazy”. Overall, UMO displayed impressive interplay and musicianship and served as an excellent opening act, getting the crowd’s blood pumping a bit more in anticipation for Grizzly Bear.
Once the lights turned back on, I saw that what were once empty seats occupied by the reverberating noise of UMO, were now all filled with eager Grizzly Bear fans. When arriving at the Orpheum, I was admittedly disappointed to learn that it is a sit down venue. Fortunately, the crowd felt the same way and as soon as Grizzly Bear came onto the stage, the whole theatre stood up and remained standing for the remainder of the show, a phenomenon that Grizzly Bear singer Ed Droste was particularly excited about. Droste, lanky and awkward, approached the microphone and admitted his love for Boston before opening the show with Shields standout “Speak In Rounds”. Daniel Rossen gently strummed his guitar, letting out little hints of his signature guitar tone, teasing the crowd before exploding into the chorus, then filling our ears with the crisp and sharp tones that make Grizzly Bear’s sound immediately identifiable.
The band then sound-tracked the entrance of some interestingly eerie light fixtures that Droste referred to as “jellyfish” with an equally unsettling ambient piece, rumbling every spectator at their core. They ended the piece by breaking into the first single off Shields, “Sleeping Ute”. The song was initially intended as a solo song for Rossen’s 2012 EP, Silent Hour/Gold Mile, so it made sense that he led the band in the performance. The light fixtures flashed on the accented notes of Rossen’s complex, yet surprisingly melodic guitar riff, offering fleeting glimpses of the bewildered faces of the crowd. Rossen’s solo section of the second half of the song was a magical display of musical prowess that captivated everyone in the room, including his fellow band mates. The lighting cast a shadow ten times the size of Rossen on the curtains behind him, giving him a Wizard of Oz type presence. Much like the wizard, seeing Rossen in person led to a shocking realization that a mere human is behind such incredible things.
The third song, and third guitar for Rossen, was “Cheerleader” of the already classic Veckatimist. The crowd immediately responded, and the light fixtures lit up along with the faces of the audience. There was an abundance of beer in my vicinity, but I felt that a “glass of gin and a folding chair”, as Rossen sang in their next song, “Lullaby”, would have been more appropriate. At least we all had the folding chairs. Grizzly Bear performed “Lullaby”, as well as all of the songs performed off their second album Yellow House, in the collaborative spirit of Shields, with bassist Chris Taylor constantly swapping weapons in his woodwind arsenal, and percussionist Chris Bear demonstrating his signature sense of rhythm.
The light fixtures mocked the crowd’s ecstatic response to “Yet Again”. Then, surprisingly, the band played “Shift” off of Horn of Plenty, essentially a Droste solo record. But, just like with the tracks performed off of Silent Hour/Gold Mile, the band performed it in a way that made it undeniably Grizzly Bear.
When Droste sang “checking it off of my list” while performing my favorite Grizzly Bear song, “Ready, Able”, I am convinced he was referring to the crowd checking “see Grizzly Bear live” off of their bucket lists. The band then slowed things down, taking a melancholy detour with “Foreground” and “What’s Wrong”. Ed Droste demonstrated his incredible vocal range while Daniel Rossen managed to inconspicuously remove his over shirt in preparation for the next song, “While You Wait for the Others”. As if the crowd was not already excited enough, the band followed the hit with none other than “Two Weeks”. At this point, the crowd absolutely lost it, and a quick scan of the venue easily revealed the people who were there for that song and that song only. The flawless performance ensured that these people certainly got their money’s worth. By the end of the song, I had the strange urge to buy a Volkswagen thanks to the 2010 car commercial.
Appropriately, Grizzly Bear closed with the closing track of Shields, “Sun in Your Eyes”. The song left the crowd craving more Grizzly Bear to the point of immobility; basically an encore was eminent. The band came back out to perform fan-favorite “Knife” and a gorgeous acoustic rendition “All We Ask”, the latter of which had the crowd at their most participatory state of the night.
Everyone left the theatre convinced that Grizzly Bear is their favorite band, which is the ultimate product of a successful concert. And they proved their love by congesting the merch table on the way out. After the show someone said that Grizzly Bear’s unlikely popularity gives him “hope for the future of music”, and I could not have agreed more.