If you had told Ed Droste 10 years ago that thousands of people would be serenading him on his 34th birthday under the adoration of his then solo project Grizzly Bear, I’m sure he would have politely dismissed such a seemingly ridiculous notion. Grizzly Bear’s 2002 debut – Horn Of Plenty – was a sombre, plaintive affair, written in wake of a rather distressing relationship meltdown, and it’s quite incredible going back and listening to it now, knowing how the rest of the Grizzly Bear story unfurls. The evolution of this band is one of the most beautiful stories in 21st Century art.
When they walked in front of an absolutely rammed Brixton Academy, the band calmly assumed their positions and remained there for the entire evening, but you don’t exactly go and see Grizzly Bear to witness a load of running about and climbing of amplifiers, do you? The band, like their music, is gracious and impossible not to like. The thumping drums and sparse instrumentation which opens ‘Speak In Rounds’ eased the audience into an attentive mindset, but it’s wasn’t until Daniel Rossen began the furious rhythmical strumming of his guitar that the set kicked off and it never let-up from there. The instrumental ‘Adelma’ followed the opener and introduced a background of electronically controlled paper lanterns which oddly resembled gigantic, glowing sperm cells, which provided a handsome, yet spectral, backdrop for the rest of show.
The band performed the perfect set, including a mixture of tracks taken from the last two albums and healthy dose of their brand new album, Shields. Rossen switched between keys and guitar throughout the set and even during certain songs, such as the brilliant upcoming single ‘A Simple Answer’. Droste may leave most of instrumentation to others in the band these days, but his voice sounded as haunting and tortured as ever, especially the impassioned vocals on the first Veckatimest track of the night, ‘Cheerleader’.
The most remarkable thing about the show was the fact that the set was so crammed full of highlights, that it is virtually impossible to pick a single one. ‘Lullabye’ sounded weirder and more raucous than ever, ‘Yet Again’ was simply incredible, especially the manic guitar-noise section right at the end. The whole show was so enjoyable from start to finish that I’d completely forgot about great songs such as ‘While You Wait For The Others’ until they featured towards the end. That said, the performances of ‘Half Gate’ and ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ and ‘Two Weeks’ right before the encore reminded the audience that, even though quirky little pop songs like ‘Two Weeks’ are great, Grizzly Bear are at their best when they create multi-faceted, ambitious songs full of orchestral pomp and layering vocals on top of rich soundscapes of guitars and synths.
When the inevitable encore came round, I was struggling to think what else they had up their sleeve. Surely we had seen all their best work already? And then the opening chords of ‘Knife’ began and the audience where sent into blissful rapture. Finishing the show with a wonderful acoustic rendition of ‘All We Ask’ provided an ending full of grace and deliberate composure, reducing a positively bulging Brixton Academy to silence and near-tears.
It’s hard to fault a band that create such captivating music and perform so gallantly, especially when they’re so clearly at their top of their game. If I had one criticism, it would be this; they didn’t play for another two hours. One of those shows when, as soon as you leave, you wish you could turn the clock back and do it all over again. Truly magical.