For the first time in history, everyone’s favorite new indie band, Grizzly Bear, visited New Orleans and made their den at the Civic Theatre. Not once in their 15-year run had they visited the Big Easy until this Sunday. They are based out of Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and traveled down to NOLA on tour for their new album Painted Ruins. They were joined by the solo artist, serpentwithfeet.
Grizzly Bear has been around since 2002, back when vocalist Ed Droste used the moniker as a title for his solo work. So, their very fist album, Horn of Plenty, was written and recorded almost entirely by Droste, with some help from the band’s future drummer, Christopher Bear. Due to Ed’s lack of experience with recording, Horn of Plenty came out as an experimental, atmospheric break-up album with lo-fidelity vocals and effect-driven instrumentation. A happy accident to say the least, it was received well by friends and soon after the band began to take shape. Droste, accompanied by friends Chris Taylor on bass and Bear on drums, attempted to play a few live shows, but was ultimately disappointed with the outcome.
The two Chris’s introduced Ed to a friend of theirs, Daniel Rossen, after having helped him record music for his band, Department of Eagles. Daniel brought some of his songs to the table and totally transformed the band’s sound. The change is immediately discernible in their second album, Yellow House. Rossen plays guitar, piano, banjo, and sings. After his addition to Grizzly Bear, their style shifted drastically from jilted lovers’ abstract indietronic to climactic, ghostly freak folk with orchestral inclinations. Rossen’s medieval guitar tone, drenched in reverb, has become a staple of the band’s music, as well as his tendency to write big, harmonious vocal choruses. In fact, Yellow House could have very well been the next album by Department of Eagles with how similar they sound.
Of course, Daniel has not seized the role of lead songwriter. Ed and the other members bring their own personality to the music and contribute songs, as well. The combination of Rossen’s ambitious, prophetic folk with Droste’s jaded, hopeless love songs is a match made in indie heaven. All four members are multi-instrumentalists, constantly evolving the sound of the band with exotic tastes from woodwinds to glockenspiel. Bassist Chris Taylor has produced all of Grizzly Bear’s records thus far. Now, the group has released their fourth studio album together, Painted Ruins, which has been widely regarded as their most acute record to date.
The promotion of the new album finally brought them to New Orleans. Being extremely grateful and excited to be playing NOLA at last, Grizzly Bear didn’t hesitate to pull out all the stops. Starting with a couple songs from Painted Ruins, “Losing All Sense” and “Cut-Out”, they then proceeded to play all the smash hits that hadn’t yet graced the ears of our city. The resulting setlist more than made up for lost time. Apart from Horn of Plenty, they played just about every favorite track from each of their records: “Knife” and “On a Neck, On a Spit” from Yellow House, “Ready, Able” and “Two Weeks” from Veckatimest, “Sleeping Ute” and “Yet Again” from Shields, as well as the rest of the singles from Painted Ruins, including “Four Cypresses” and “Three Rings.”
Because of Grizzly Bear’s bold approach to songwriting, their recordings are elaborately layered and impressive, however, this unfortunately doesn’t quite translate live. There just aren’t enough members to properly execute all the nuances of their music. Even they realized this, and hired a touring musician, Aaron Arntz, to provide the missing synths and keyboards to their live performances. Now, they definitely have a larger sound, closer to that of their albums, but would most likely benefit from yet another touring hand. That being said, Dan, Ed, Chris, and Chris all play extremely well together on stage. They reproduce their individual and group vocals, as well as all their instruments to perfection. Also, their stage setup currently includes large, hanging mesh aluminum curtains that reflect colors and give a magical sense of cave light wonder. So, Grizzly Bear live has simply become a separate, more personally-satisfying experience from their recorded work, even if not all the flair is present.
The decided final song was the explosive last track from Shields, “Sun In Your Eyes” which complimented the other deep tracks they played for the diehard fans like “Lullabye” and “Foreground.” For the inevitable encore, they surprised with another grandiose deep cut, “Colorado,” the last song on Yellow House. After thanking everyone for attending and repeating how thrilled they were to be in New Orleans, Grizzly Bear sent off NOLA with “While You Wait for the Others” from Veckatimest. The reality, however, is now that they’ve gone, we’ll be distracting ourselves with others while we wait for their return.