Matthew E. White was made for summer’s twilight in the Iveagh Gardens. His unassuming, piano-based blend of country, prog and funk is worthy in its own right but makes for perfect background listening as friends meet after work to drink and catch-up in one of Dublin’s best venues. Ears aren’t focused on the stage, where the mightily hirsute White and his backing band are running through January’s Big Inner, but the likes of opener ‘One of These Days’, ‘Steady Pace’, ‘Big Love’ provide the perfect complement to a relaxing evening in the park.
The magnificent ‘Brazos’, complete with its Jesus-freak refrain as ever, draws a few more eyes onto White and earns the Virginian songwriter a warm round of applause to close out his set. The crowd patiently waits for the main event, but White is more than an amiable distraction.
And so to Grizzly Bear, who take their typically egalitarian positions. Bookended by the two Chrises (multi-instrumentalist Taylor and drummer Bear) Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen ease into ‘Speak in Rounds’ before the controlled racket of ‘Sleeping Ute’ takes hold.
Outside of ‘Ute’, ‘A Simple Answer and ‘Yet Again’, the early stages are given over to the quieter, lesser-known numbers from albums past, as ‘Cheerleader’, ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Shift’ all get their moment in the sun, and what comes through is the band’s startling musicianship. Droste is his mannered self, complimenting the people and the city, while the backdrop is unadorned – countenance nor decoration distracts from the collective talent of these four men. Taylor swaps his bass for saxophone, keyboards and clarinet throughout, while Rossen and Bear prove to be impressively dexterous, even if they only master the one instrument each.
‘A Simple Answer’ ambles along jauntily before refocusing for its anthemic coda, which marks the ascent as the hushed beauty of ‘Foreground’ and the compulsive groove of ‘Gun-Shy’ follow. ‘Ready, Able’ erupts with a menacing rumble from Taylor’s bass, before the stereo melodies and piercing tone of Rossen’s guitar take over lifting it to its enlightened peak.
From there, all that’s left are perfect songs performed with great care and emotion. ‘While You Wait for the Others’ is made all the more resonant by Rossen’s wispy, regretful vocal and the swaying melodies that surround him as the chorus crashes into being, while ‘Two Weeks’ glistens: the prodding synth line is met with cheers before giving way to the swirling behemoth of a chorus and the delightful four-way harmonies that make it one of the greatest songs of our era. It risks getting upstaged by new kid on the block ‘Sun in Your Eyes’, getting its first outing on these shores, however. The Shields ender is built from scratch – a simple piano riff and Rossen’s voice – and grows from there. The brass and deep bassoon responsible for the song’s growth spurt on record are eschewed on stage, but the sliding note that Taylor plays to signal the song’s towering crescendo is worth the price of entry alone.
“So bright, so long, I’m never coming back” is a rather facetious lyric to end on, but the crowd is thankfully treated to a rather lovely encore as dusk settles over the Gardens. Yellow House is largely forgotten this evening, but ‘Knife’ and ‘On a Neck, On a Spit’ set out to remind us of the great album that houses them. The former providing one last opportunity for the band to give their harmonic talents a work-out, and the latter bringing an enchanting performance to a close with infectious exuberance and smiles all round.