Grizzly Bear, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee, WI- 10/9
I’ve always hated genre-labeling, and perhaps this is why I’ve grown to enjoy Grizzly Bear so much. You just cannot pigeonhole their sound or classify them in any conceivable way. Indie rock? True, most people don’t know who this band is, but their music doesn’t have the structure or semblance of a “rock sound” to merit that title. Folk? Too many psychedelic swoons, flutes, and clarinets. Alternative? Only in the sense that they were an alternative to seeing Wilco in Milwaukee on this particular night (and what a fantastic alternative, considering Wilco was playing the Rave, a downtrodden venue with acoustics that would have killed Grizzly Bear before they even came on).
Although there may be no concrete title to bestow upon this Brooklyn-based quartet, it seemed that many in attendance, including myself, were enjoying the show too much to even care. I’ve been listening to their 2006 release Yellow House for nearly a year now (an album I predict will one day earn the title “timeless,” and in twenty years will be listened to like people listen to Neil Young’s Harvest), and was very excited to finally get a chance to see them live. The Pabst provides bands like Grizzly Bear a phenomenal acoustic outlet, perfect for the intricacies and subtle textures and tempos their music is founded on.
If you really need a way to classify Grizzly Bear’s music, perhaps it can be best described as music you listen to at home. “Marla,” a song written by lead vocalist Ed Droste’s great-aunt in the 1930s, conjured up images of a lonely woman looking out the living room window at dusk in an early twentieth-century farmhouse. It was by far the most moving song of the set, and was enhanced by drummer Christopher Bear moving from sputtering drums to melancholy keys. Other songs such as the folk-heavy “Little Brother,” also hit close to home, revealing the close and personal space that Grizzly Bear draw inspiration from.
Throughout the one-hour set, the band ran through nearly the entire Yellow House album, as well as a few re-worked cuts from their debut, Horn of Plenty. “Alligator,” a fuzz-drenched interlude off HOP, was restructured into a bass-driven romp, and really separated itself from the rest of the set’s calm, folky atmosphere. It still retained the repetitiveness of the original version, but bassist Chris Taylor added a layer of low pulses that transformed the minimalist piece into a moving, cyclical song. When he wasn’t plucking the 4-string, Taylor crouched close to the floor and added flute and clarinet to easy-going ballads like “Easier.”
After spending many countless hours listening to this band on CD, I came away very impressed with how much detail they were able to bring to their live performance. Yellow House has layers upon layers to listen to, but Grizzly Bear live certainly came close. Whether it was Taylor’s crisp multi-instrumentation, Droste’s crooning vocals, or guitarist Daniel Rosen’s smooth chord work, Grizzly Bear exemplified “doing the little things.” These four guys seemed completely in tune, but more importantly, they seemed relaxed with each other and the audience they played to, a reciprocation that set the mood for a very enjoyable night of music.
Call their music what you will, but I guarantee you won’t be able to put a finger on it. One thing’s for certain, though: it’s unique and starting to attract attention. Droste could not have been any more sincere when he thanked the crowd for choosing them over Wilco. But something in his voice indicated that he already new that they had something special brewing at the Pabst.