Five short years ago, Grizzly Bear played before a transfixed and adoring audience of perhaps 100 people on the cramped stage of Club Dada. Touring to support their break-through album Yellow House, the band brought to stage the unique and peculiar blend of soaring vocals, tight harmonies, literate lyrics and precisely fussy instrumentation heard on that album. Although ostensibly "led" by singer Ed Droste, it was clear that each member contributed to a fully realized musical vision. It was a powerful performance by what seemed to be genuinely personable guys. Last night, on a stage with far more room and with an inspired lighting production, the band once again delivered a mesmerizing performance, but this time to a nearly sold-out Palladium audience.
Taking the stage at 10 p.m. after a 45-minute break from the finish of Owen Pallet's opening set, the band started with "Speak In Rounds" from the last year's excellent Shields. Lit by bright-white shafts of light, the band made it clear that, while the song arrangements were going to maintain their complexity, they were also going to be delivered with real muscle. The four-piece band has added a keyboardist to touring roster, and the additional synths and piano washing each song provided real depth to the sound. If you happened to be around the perimeter of the building, the punch of the drums and Chris Taylor's fuzzy Rickenbacker bass had the building vibrating like a Scion's loose license plate bouncing to an over-blown subwoofer.
As the last notes of the opening song segued into the instrumental interlude Adelma, perhaps 20 lanterns slowly rose from behind the stage. Trailing tentacles and with multiple shafts of lights in the "body," the lights called to mind a Portuguese man o' war. Throughout the set they would change color and expression, slowly raise and lower, sometimes randomly, at other times forming a pattern. For me, the band's music has a theatrical element, and the lighting proved a fantastic complement to the music throughout.
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The songs demand precise and clear vocals, and both lead vocalists Droste and guitarist Dan Rossen were in extremely fine form, as were the backing vocals of multi-instrumentalist Taylor and drummer Bear.
This tour is called the Shields Spring Tour, and as the name suggests the set drew heavily from that album. More than earlier releases, much of the album's music demands full engagement to be appreciated. The saturday night setting was best accompanied by the album's more galloping songs, like the set opener and "Half Gate" (with Owen Pallet joining the band on violin) and "Sleeping Ute." The audience reacted with passion to "Cheerleader," "Two Weeks," and :While You Wait For The Others" from 2009's Veckatimest. At other times, the nuance of the songs was a bit lost on the restless crowd and the chatter rose to distracting levels.
Grizzly Bear finished the initial set after 80 minutes. Virtually no one left their spots, and the band came back to deliver what many were waiting for. With many of the lanterns extinguished and a smaller group drawn down close to center stage, the clustered band played the stripped-down favorites from Yellow House. Starting with "Knife," followed by "On a Neck, On A Spit," it was almost like seeing the band on the cramped stage of Dada. The set came to a beautiful close with "All We Ask," with the crowd singing along.