by Chris Toenes
Thursday, June 11
Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro
Grizzly Bear didn’t need to convince anyone of its charms at a sold-out Cat’s Cradle last night: Many onlookers wore broad grins when the lights dropped, and the crowd at large welcomed the band to the stage warmly. The quartet gauged the vibe. Singer Ed Droste lauded his first taste of local Locopops. And off they went…
But even as Grizzly Bear tours its latest record, Veckatimest, and its success appears to be surging beyond indie mainstream adoration, its live show tests its album-loving audiences. Grizzly Bear’s best songs possess forward motion. But when the band hovers in mid-stream, with instrumentation and arrhythmic turns folding over themselves, the emotional power seeps away from one too many “ahhs” or leaks down from one of those soaring harmonies they do so well. On record, Grizzly Bear rings with pristine production. To wit, I’ve found myself reminded of the untouchable harmonic pop of Richard Davies and Eric Matthews in Cardinal, especially on “While You Wait for the Others.” Where that band’s one record was full of swoons and minor chords that pull at one’s heart, though, Grizzly Bear’s songs largely remain in their own bubble. The band’s somewhat avant-garde look into pop comes loaded with rich harmonies, building its songs through often abstract textures (simple but manipulated instruments, like a clarinet run through an octaver pedal to achieve a wide bas effect). The songs engage themselves.
Gazing into the stage set-up, sparkling with an economic backdrop of crystal-laden cords that cast the band in a color tableaux transitioning from starry night to aquarium to a deep red, the beauty they create was undeniable if detached, not allowing itself to really feel those stirring situations described in the songs. The Cradle certainly fostered this self-made world: The sound had a full low-end and allowed for crisp guitar. Those famous vocals rightly resonated through the room as if in a church. And they tweaked the vocal treatments and sound effects live—a reed here, an autoharp there—so they never appeared to be a band strapped to its studio sound.
After one encore, the band bid the crowd an enthusiastic goodnight. Some folks had already moved outside for a smoke or for a break from the thick humidity left by an earlier thunderstorm. I left, too, wishing that underneath all those attempts to push themselves away from pop music’s structure and normalcy, they’d kept more of its unadorned heart.