The Grizzly Bear show at New York's famed Radio City Music Hall on Monday night (Sept. 24) was a homecoming as well as a celebration of new album "Shields," but it also felt like a series of acceptance speeches. But what was the award? Indie rock's most consistent act?
Even without any statuettes to claim, the Brooklyn band showed an outpouring of refreshing gratitude during its first-ever headlining gig at Radio City Music Hall. First came the thank you's to friends who had been at Grizzly Bear's first show in 2004 (at Williamsburg café Zebulon), then the love to singer/guitarist Ed Droste's 91-year-old grandmother who flew in from Texas to see the band for the first time, then to singer/guitarist Daniel Rossen's mother who also flew in, then their touring keyboardist Aaron Arntz, and then, finally, the fans. If this was actually an awards show, the musical cue would have kicked in and the band would have been shooed off the stage long before they had a chance to finish the love fest.
In a way, the show felt like a true capital-M Moment for Grizzly Bear, something that would stick out in the sea of shows of the last few years. Over the course of an hour and 45 minutes, Grizzly Bear played 18 songs, improvising and winding through their four-album catalog. For nearly the entire show, the crowd sat politely, each person appearing to have a "soaking it all in" sort of experience. There was lot to see - like jelly fish orb lanterns that bobbed vertically behind the band, blinding strobes and rainbow spotlights - and even more to hear. Grizzly Bear's layered sound enveloped Radio City with, at times, a loudness that felt almost too much for a venue so regal. Almost.
Naturally, "Shields," released last Tuesday (September 18), took precedence in the set list. The crescendoing "Speak in Rounds" kicked things off, gaining particular urgency thanks to drummer Chris Bear, whose chops have never been in finer form than on the stunning new album. Bear stole the scene last night on a number of songs, particularly "Shields" closer "Sun in Your Eyes," though one off-tempo moment showed up on new song "Half Gate."
As the show moved forward, more and more old songs crept in. Singles off 2009's "Veckatimest," "Two Weeks" and "While You Wait For The Others," inspired bursts of cheers and movement from the crowd, while tracks off 2006's "Yellow House" inspired a certain kind of nostalgia. Droste introduced "Knife" in the band's encore as the first song they ever wrote together. Already a sprawling, trippy track, what followed was rendition worthy of embarrassing hippie dance moves. Grizzly Bear's Moment had turned into everyone else's, and it just kept going. The tempo-changing "On A Neck, On A Spit" led into an acoustic version of one of "Veckatimest's" most emotionally resonant tracks, "All We Ask."
There are certain Grizzly Bear songs in which the words can hide between all the musical layers - multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor's soaring woodwinds and dueling guitar noodling from Droste and Rossen - but not here. This was Grizzly Bear's big, beautiful, harmonizing, hand-clapping campfire moment, and it felt like a triumph.
Grizzly Bear's Radio City set list:
"Speak In Rounds"
"A Simple Answer"
"While You Wait For The Others"
"Sun In Your Eyes"
"On A Neck, On A Spit"
"All We Ask"