Grizzly Bear – Live At O2 Academy, Brixton

An exercise in listening

Singer Ed Droste has been known to bemoan the quietness of recent Grizzly Bear shows, criticising the Newcastle audience of being like zombies and willing people to move their feet. We must contest. While at some shows you might dance away, at others you might throw yourself into peers with a pint full of piss, and with some, well with some you can’t wait to leave. A Grizzly Bear show is like none of the above. It is an exercise in listening; absorbing the varying time signatures, appreciating the musicianship in balancing several instruments and simply being spellbound by the bands a capella harmonies with a band that cannot be pigeonholed.

Droste’s concern could also be dispelled by the fact that tonight is a complete sell-out, such is the appetite for the Brooklyn band’s shows. Supported by The Villagers, tonight is the final show of a short UK tour to celebrate their fourth album, ‘Shields’ and is also a chance to celebrate Droste’s birthday. The crowd join in with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, which Droste seems genuinely flattered by and perhaps saves us from his Ttwitter wrath.

The set begins with the soulful ‘Speak in Rounds’ followed by the atmospheric interlude, ‘Adelma’. In this time floating lanterns rise from behind the back of the stage and we are transcended into a druid-like ritual as both the music and the lights flicker. These remain for the entirety of the show, responding to the mood of each song.

Daniel Rossen then takes over vocal duties for ‘Sleeping Ute’, the third of back-to-back songs from the new album which have a striking difference in intensity.  ‘Yet Again’ is a clear example of this as the melodies are pushed harder with dense guitar brushes that crash together with a deafening climax. The band said in their recent interview with Clash that ‘Shields’ is a more collaborative piece of work and this is clearly evident tonight. While Droste and Rossen take the lion’s share of the vocals, the band come together on this front with multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor’s backing vocals particularly staggering for both ‘Gun-Shy’ and ‘Half Gate’. This, he manages to do while moving from flute, to guitar to lord knows what else as Rossen bounces back and forth from guitar to piano.

The set is dominated by songs from both ‘Shields’ and the critically acclaimed, ‘Veckatimest’ with room left for a nod to their formative albums.  The biggest moments come from songs such as ‘Ready, Able’ where the lanterns throb to the rumbling drums in the introduction and the competing harmonies of Droste and Rossen leave us swooning. The astonishing falsetto for the beginning of ‘Foreground’ breaks the silence from the crowd who, when the vocal finishes begin to whoop and whistle at its delivery. If having four incredibly talented musicians on stage wasn’t enough the group are joined by Aaron Arntz for supporting keyboards for the epic, loose and arguably most listener friendly song, ‘Two Weeks’, climaxing with the final lantern fading into darkness.

The band returns to the stage for a two-song encore with the surprise omission of ‘Veckatimist’ favourite ‘Southern Point’. Instead we are led into an acoustic rendition of, ‘All We Ask’ supported by hand claps which work beautifully with the acoustics of the room. While we don’t go home with achy legs or salty skin from dry sweat, Grizzly Bear produce a performance worthy of selling out any arena.


Words by Andrew Darby

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