Grizzly Bear Speaks in Rounds
Brooklyn breakouts prep ‘ACL’ with a sold-out Stubb’s stunner
By Raoul Hernandez, 12:27PM, Wed. Apr. 10
Taping Austin City Limits tonight at the Moody Theater, Grizzly Bear rehearsed for almost two full hours to a sold-out Stubb’s on Monday. Like one particular PBS live concert recordee before them, the avant-garde Brooklyn quartet has officially crossed over into the mainstream – with a big sound, big hooks, and bulk adoration.
From the Velvet Underground to Arcade Fire, all vanguard rock & roll groups must sooner or later come to terms with commercial success in order simply to survive on some level. No band begins not to be heard by as many people as possible. For some, say Animal Collective, that plateau splinters the group, whether literally or figuratively. For Arcade Fire, a 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year proved the wind beneath its wings, with bigger ambitions and artistic canvases sure to follow.
Outdoors on a perfect spring night, and following the equally mainstreaming pull of Torontoan Owen Pallett – formerly solo video gamer Final Fantasy and now eerily Andrew Bird-like, complete with plucked fiddle, winsome croon, and a backing trio – Grizzly Bear came out surfing the full-bore rock & rush of “Speak in Rounds.” Second song on the band’s fourth full-length, last year’s gorgeous Shields, its exhilarating blow-back made for the obvious Arcade Fire comparison. Yet what followed proved far more supple – thoughtful – though no less enthralling than their Canadian/Houston counterparts in indie magnetism. Fleet Foxes meets Radiohead all right.
“Speak in Rounds” quickly gave way to its LP sandwich, kick-off “Sleeping Ute” and third track “Adelma,” and before all three were through, the template had been laid. McCartney/Lennon co-leads, Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen, buttressed by swooning Beach Boys/CSNY harmonies from bass/sax/clarinet charmer Chris Taylor and drummer Christopher Bear, front the wash of keyboards, chiming guitars, and right-angle melodies over left-handed rhythms that layer into a breathtaking whole.
“You guys are totally bringing it,” marveled Droste to the bonkers assemblage of youthful hipsters. “Texas, I'm telling ya!”
“Yet Again” two tunes later, by my account the “hit” off Shields, swayed with the minor-chord nirvana of South by Southwest 2012 ACL knock-outs the Shins, who land somewhere between Animal Collective and Arcade Fire in terms of what mega exposure meant for the band creatively. “Gun Shy,” another new song in Shinsian style, proved equally moving, bells and syncopation cushioning its balladic wallop. In fact, two more romantic meters bookended the 90-minute main set, which began with a trio of Shields and finished the same way.
Penultimate topper both live and on the latest album, “Half Gate” veers nearly into My Morning Jacket mysticism on disc, but at Stubb’s starting out the week, it took on the metronomic flutter of Thom Yorke hemorrhaging vocal ecstasy born of the inherently insecure human condition. Stunning. Bring smelling salts to ACL tonight.