Iron Horse Music Hall
Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007
I’m not one for revelations, especially those of the self-referential kind, but I’ll let you in on a little trade secret: writing reviews about concerts is essentially formulaic. I wonder whether rock critics sit down at their desks with a grocery list-like set of criteria for an article. Have I located and named the band’s current stomping grounds? Did I scour my music library for several reminiscent artists, and did I mention these artists nonchalantly? Have I eloquently and convincingly described the band’s redeeming abilities despite its clear weak point? Have I picked a member who is most vital to the band’s survival? Can I see where this band is going and set a projected timeline for its success? If you answered yes to all these questions, you may have written a rock review!
One band that’s particularly troublesome to fit to this formula is Grizzly Bear. Okay, okay, I’ll throw you some vitals: Like many up, coming, and arrived indie rock bands, including the group’s tourmates of last fall, TV On The Radio, Grizzly Bear calls Brooklyn home. The group arrived on the critical scene in 2004 with the release of Horn of Plenty, although this album only featured half of what’s now a band of four. Horn of Plenty put Grizzly Bear under the genres of “anti-” and “freak folk” (who even knows what those mean?) and paved the way for their first release as a quartet, 2006’s Yellow House. Grizzly Bear went on to receive rave reviews from publications of varying prestige, tour Europe, sell out shows in Boston, Chicago and New York … yadda yadda, and now you’ve got the band’s backstory.
This particular story, however, begins in Northampton, MA at the Iron Horse Music Hall. Standing in line in Arctic temperatures, armed with only a grocery list — er, press pass — I eagerly awaited entry to what promised to be an exciting and easily reviewable show. Although tickets were still available at the Iron Horse, the place was packed. And my formerly simple job as a card-carrying critic was about to present a more interesting challenge: what would I say about a band who defies all the rules?
Employing such varied instruments as flute, clarinet, synthesizer, xylophone, autoharp, and a bass drum-less kit, as well as standard rock instruments like guitar and bass, the band certainly demonstrated their instrumental diversity throughout the show. I had four equally profound epiphanies, each successive time thinking I’d discovered the band’s strongest member. Eventually I realized that the powerful group’s greatest asset was unity. I mean it. These guys are tight on their instruments, and they all sing well, often in four-part harmony. They played mostly new songs, and the tunes they played from Yellow House might as well have been new based on their radical rearrangements. The slow-moving, ghostly “Colorado” sounded upbeat and beachy. “Little Brother” live featured an intro that never made it on the album. While “Knife” and “Shift” were slower than the album versions, “On A Neck, On A Spit” was more ambient in the concert setting. These formerly familiar songs were inserted between newer, faster, louder songs and even a cover of 60’s girl group The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).” What’s more, the band used more reverb than I’ve ever heard in a live setting, echo that (unbelievably) worked in their favor, and auto-tune technology that raised voices up octaves and clarinets down, demonstrating technological appreciation as well as musical creativity. I couldn’t find a reason to complain, and I haven’t found a reason to stop singing their praises.
If you’re interested in checking out this fabulous quartet, I highly recommend visiting http://www.grizzly-bear.net. Although the show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom on March 6 is now sold out, never fear! Another one on March 7 has just been added. Forget what you’ve feared about the Fung Wah, remember all you’ve just heard about Grizzly Bear, and take the bus to Manhattan. Your ears, eyes, and mental well-being will thank you.