Friday, September 28, 2012

Grizzly Bear's vocal pyrotechnics light Ryman Auditorium ablaze

Indie folk stalwarts Grizzly Bear delighted the Ryman crowd with intricate harmonies and deep, varied instrumentation.

There's something special that comes with seeing a band at the peak of their abilities. Most folks aren't lucky enough to catch a band at the crest of their prime; they may not hear of them until much later, or perhaps don't find the time to check them out. Over the past couple weeks, I've been lucky enough to catch two such bands. The first was Beach House show at Marathon Music Works, but Grizzly Bear took things to a new level at Nashville's esteemed Ryman Auditorium.

The band began as what was basically a solo project of singer Ed Droste, who was really into messing around with quiet acoustics and ambiance at the time. He installed a full band for their second album, Yellow House, and the key focus moved onto breathtaking vocals and intricately arranged harmony sections coupled with a mellow pastoral indie folk sound. For that reason, the Ryman is obviously the only place to see a band like Grizzy Bear. With the harmonies so meticulously arranged there's a lot going on in each song, and the perfect acoustics of the Ryman allow you to pick up on each separate voice and every subtle technique.

Ed Droste rocks out with the best of them.
The Ryman is a stage known for hosting some of the greatest country acts, but lately its also been home to the best of the best from the indie world. This is the stage that's seen Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Fleet Foxes. But another thing that's important to note about the Ryman is that it's a very restrained environment.

There isn't a lot of dancing, rocking out, or really a lot of people getting into the performance, like you might see at Cannery or Exit/In. Everybody stayed mostly seated until after "Cheerleader," when Droste smartly urged the crowd to their feet.

It was a great time to do so, since "Cheerleader" was one of the band's best overall performances to that point. It opens with Chris Taylor's signature bass riff, which gives way to Droste's restrained croon. Christopher Bear's pounding bass rhythm puts the listener in a grooving mood, while guitarist Daniel Rossen's solo is a nice showoff piece.

The early part of Grizzly Bear's set was populated by the best songs from the newest album, Shields, but there was also a song slipped in I wasn't expecting to see. "Adelma" is a brief 1:30ish ambient interlude -- not the type of thing that typically translates well to live stage. This, however, was very nice. The lights on the main stage were turned down, which focused the attention to the yellowy gold light on the back wall.

Chris Taylor is a multi-instrumental master.
There were several jellyfish like apparatuses being slowly raised on the back wall; they looked like metal boxes covered in mesh with a lightbulb inside. It made for a very peaceful and serene setting, as the mellotron played. Later, Droste praised the tour's art director, Ben Tousely, for coming up with the idea. He said whenever he wasn't playing he wanted to turn around and look at them.

He also proved himself to be a superb frontman. He congratulated a couple in the crowd who just got engaged, and also described the atmosphere in Knoxville following the UT-Florida football game. They had played Knoxville's Tennessee Theater just two days earlier

Said Droste: "Shit got real."

His engaging personality worked wonders for boosting the crowd's energy level. A lively round of hand claps came in at the end of "While You Wait for the Others." Meanwhile, anyone who had sat down got back on their feet for "Two Weeks." The hit single from Veckatimest is well known for its heavenly harmonies, but this performance unveiled a secret weapon: Christopher Bear's two handed chops.

Eerie purple lights coated the stage for "Shift," most definitely the greatest single example of the band's harmony section.

They did something special for their encore. Most cities only get a song or two for an encore, but when the band came back out Droste announced they'd be doing three songs. After ripping through "Knife" and "Half Gate," they then played an acoustic version of "All We Ask," specifically designed to take advantage of the Ryman's acoustics. And boy did it.

Droste and Taylor harmonized perfectly while singing into the same microphone, while Rossen's crisp strumming rang clearly through the room. Bands often try to make the fans in each city feel special, but mostly it's just lip service. Grizzly Bear actually delivered for the Nashville crowd, and that honestly meant something.

Guitarist/singer Daniel Rossen, left, anchors Grizzly Bear while Christopher Bear provides the beat.


Cara Mico said...

Cool show. I'm going to try to see the Counting Crows in Charlottesville Virgnia on the 28th of October, although I might not have time or gas money. Think your comment about a musicians peak is funny. I think musicians are constantly improving, that's what makes them musicians and not just performers.

The Author said...

That may be true, but all bands eventually decline. The point is that they aren't totally green, but they're also not some band holding on to 20 year old hits. They're in their prime.

How has Virginia been for you?