In May 2007, Grizzly Bear played their debut Irish performance to a captivated audience in Whelan’s. Last night, they returned for their first Irish show since that much revered set. At the time, the band were on an upwards arc thanks to word of mouth buzz around their second album Yellow House in mostly hushed indie circles.
Since then, the band have grown comfortably into their late 2009 incarnation. Only this time the hype around them was started by early appearances on US late night talk shows and cemented by the release of their third album Veckatimest, a gorgeous capacious record which Shane Culloty noted “would seem to be the masterpiece Grizzly Bear have been threatening to make, and as fine an album as you’ll hear this year” in his five for five State review earlier this year.
The atmosphere in Vicar Street was set by support act Annie Clark aka St Vincent who gave a 30 minute solo show with a backing track and her omnipresent sinewy guitar style. Clark’s impeccably soft voice was the defining factor of her set, giving a Sunday night audience reason to indulge in a relaxed and engaging opener.
When the four members of Grizzly Bear do arrive on stage, it’s a similarly relaxed ambience. Kicking off with Veckatimest’s opening track ‘Southern Point’ is a smart move. It’s a song that is complex and dizzying on record, and live, the tune’s dynamics can really be felt, from the quietly strummed guitar parts to the raucous loud crescendos. Grizzly Bear’s big strength lies in their musicianship. They may not move around much but when the three voices of Chris Taylor, Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen rise in concordance, it has a magical, calming effect. The already present atmospherics on record are given an extra spatial lift as the reverb-drenched timbre of Ed Droste combines with the other two distinct voices (and sometimes three when the drummer gets involved).
Things just get more captivating from there. Bassist Taylor plays some flute, Droste takes up an autoharp, Rossen occupies the organ when required and drummer Chris Bear quietly drives everything along magnificently.
The set is an equal mix of Yellow House and Veckatimest material taking in ‘Lullaby’, ‘Knife’, ‘Little Brother’ (drawing more from the “Electric” version found on the Friend EP), ‘Colorado’, ‘On a Neck On A Spit’ from the former and ‘Cheerleader’, ‘Ready Able’, ‘I Live with You’ amongst others from the latter.
The jam jar lights hung around the stage add to the dreamland folk vibe and the band’s crystal clear vocals during ‘Foreground’ could lure migatory creatures from their sleepy hollows.
The band have always been grateful to Foggy Notions for their support and the promoters receive a heartfelt shoutout before the band’s true sunny pop moment ‘Two Weeks’. It’s a joy to hear live, being as it is, one of the songs of the year.
The band’s last few songs include a magnificent rendition of Veckatimest highlight, ‘While You Wait For The Others’ – a Rossen-led song which has much of the audience singing the “Oh Oh” hook back at the stage and a final pre-curfew cover of The Crystals/Phil Spector ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)’ brings the set to shimmering and rapturously received end.
Grizzly Bear is what happens when skilled musicians gel together to sculpt beautiful sounds filled with detail. Case in point: during a stunning version of ‘Deep Blue Sea’ (from Friend EP and the recent Dark Was The Night compilation), the always busy bassist Chris Taylor picks up an old radio to add subtle static to the mix. They barely need the sound emanating from it as this band crackle and sparkle mighty fine on their own. An inspiring gig.