An anxious crowd looked on as Grizzly Bear members Daniel Rossen and Christopher Bear set up their own equipment. After an exhausting three-night stint in New York and another gig in D.C. the night before, I wondered if the Brooklyn-based band had enough left to give a performance that would live up to the impossible hype that has built preceding the release of the brilliant Veckatimest. I saw Grizzly Bear once before back in 2006 when they opened up for TV on the Radio (also in Philly at Starlight Ballroom) but did not pay them much attention. Last night at The Trocadero in Philly, it just took the opening notes of “Southern Point,” and the entire crowd realized we were in for a something memorable.
The Trocadero has not traditionally produced the best sound, as great past performances by Built to Spill and Saul Williams coupled with inaudible sound left me shaking my head. The mix, acoustics, and overall sound quality at the venue last night were stellar. I felt spoiled, as I listened to components of new songs I hadn’t heard before, after spending weeks with poor 128kbps MP3 versions on my iPod. I plan to listen to the vinyl release shortly and can only imagine how well the intricacies of Veckatimest come through on wax. The most overwhelming aspect of Grizzly Bear live is the drumming of Chris Bear, who plays a more central role in the band’s most recent incarnation. The astonishing percussion on Veckatimst is both the glue that binds and the fuse that ignites, steering seemingly straightforward compositions into sublime chaos. The live mix had Bear’s drums turned way up, and every strike by Bear resonated throughout the venue. Bear also contributes to the band’s genius harmonies. Yes, all four members of the band sing on many of their tracks.
Grizzly Bear founder and frontman Ed Droste promised early in the show that he had a special guest joining them later on in the show. About mid-way through the set, Beach House songstress Victoria LeGrand joined the band for a riveting performance of “Two Weeks.” The band continued playing mostly from their latest record with a few tracks mixed in from their sophomore effort, Yellow House, including “The Knife,” “Little Brother,” and an intoxicating performance of “Colorado” as an encore. As good as Yellow House was, hearing Veckatimest live was something to behold. Daniel Rossen’s guitar was stunning, especially on personal favorites “While You Wait For The Others” and “I Live With You.” Ed Droste’s slightly processed but wide ranging vocals were also a highlight. Droste’s voice mixed with the atmospheric instrumentation of “Ready, Able” led the crowd to a collective swoon. I was slightly disappointed that Droste didn’t play Veckatimest closer “Foreground,” as he did in each of the NYC shows.
The band’s producer and multi-instrumentalist/bass player, Chris Taylor, played a variety of additional woodwind instruments throughout the night, including a clarinet and flute. It was impressive to watch Taylor play several instruments and build orchestral arrangements live with the help of a sampler. At one point, he returned to his bass and played over the sampled composition. Taylor also provides most of the backup vocals and harmonies on most of the tracks. And this is something that stands out about Grizzly Bear. Each player is a multi-instrumentalist and sings. The result is a highly atmospheric and melodic sound the resonates on the live stage.
I love everything that Animal Collective does, but I have yet to be impressed by their live performances of the mostly electronic Merriweather Post Pavilion, a record that sounds best in its studio gloriousness. Veckatimest live sounds better than Veckatimest on CD. And that’s saying a lot considering it’s my favorite album of the year so far. With Veckatimest debuting on the Billboard 200 this week at #8, it is unlikely that Rossen and Bear will be setting up equipment on their next tour.