With support from Perfume Genius
Grizzly Bear - Live At The Junction, Cambridge

If you’ve heard one Perfume Genius song, then while it’s an exaggeration to suggest you’ve heard them all, you’ve probably got the general idea. Even though his second album was laced with the sort of low-key atmospherics with which Julee Cruise used to entertain the corrupt denizens of ‘Twin Peaks’, the fundamentals of Michael Hadreas’ funereal songs haven’t altered since 2010’s ‘Learning’. For those who dislike reverb-heavy piano and piercing lamentations about crimes of passion and homophobic abuse, the repetition of such elements can quickly wear thin. If you do enjoy those things, however, then congratulations: this is definitely for you.

The intensely confidential nature of Hadreas’ music hardly feels suited to a large-ish shed on the fringe of Cambridge city centre. Its natural environment is more intimate (like, a bedroom, for example), so it’s interesting to see how he copes with the setting. The answer is pretty well, overall. Augmented by Badalamenti synths and muted drums, his odes to heartache, bereavement and worse, such as the beautiful ‘Dark Parts’, rise over the chatter of the still-building crowd and take on a slightly fateful aspect.

Some arrangements are too heavy, revealing the simplicity of his slo-mo arpeggios to the point where they start to resemble a plodding, suicidal version of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance instead. Sitting there with his lovely cheekbones, surrounded by soupy swirls of dry ice, Hadreas seems largely oblivious. Self-indulgent it ain’t, however. Most of his elegies are ruthlessly cut off in their prime, and thus bereft of the potential for melodramatic angst; tracks like ‘Perry’ feel honest and brutal instead.

Grizzly Bear return to the UK after a two-year hiatus to peddle their fourth album, ‘Shields’, and this warm-up gig is a chance to hear more of it. Frustratingly, however, the band seem at once different and the same. Like the recent single, ‘Yet Again’, some of it feels more intense and vivid than 2009’s ‘Veckatimest’, harnessing the idea of each song to a centre point amid the harrying squall of competing melodies and then allowing it to unravel at key, climactic moments. Edward Droste’s vocals in particular sound perhaps more evocative and forsaken than they have in the past.

But the truth is that most of the material performed tonight – new or old – is more sharply defined than on record, so it’s difficult to tell whether ‘Shields’ signals a departure, progress or more of the same. The abiding impression is of a band striving for a sweet choral echo of things past; at once straining to defy structure and form, yet simultaneously in thrall to musical genres that have essentially already eaten themselves.

As with ‘Veckatimest’, therefore, tonight’s set veers between the bucolic, harmony-rich, psychedelic folk of a more fantastic Fleet Foxes, and hollow-eyed, Radiohead-esque gloaming. None of it exactly defies categorisation, and occasionally it just ambles aimlessly around it instead, so that tracks like ‘Fine for Now’ threaten to vaporise into proggy abstraction. When they get it right, however, Grizzly Bear produce a dense, complex brand of haunted pastoral, soothed by Droste and Daniel Rossen’s frequently superb, hymnal combinations. It’s enough to suggest that they may have a truly spectacular album within them, even if the jury remains out for now.

Words by Tom Kirk

Follow Clash: