Concert Review: Grizzly Bear 8/12/2008 in Camden

This is part one of a two part report on Radiohead’s magnificent appearance in Camden, New Jersey. Needless to say, Radiohead was great. But there will be more on that later. For now, it’s time to look at the best new band out there – Grizzly Bear.

It’s really unfair that Grizzly Bear had to open for Radiohead. While the tour represents a chance for the young band to be more widely exposed, they nearly become an afterthought. Conversation of concert-goers tends toward the hopes related to Radiohead’s setlist. Certainly I was guilty of this – would they played “Karma Police” and other highlights from OK Computer, or would the focus be on new material from In Rainbows?

Luckily, my attention was immediately pulled from the Radiohead speculation. Grizzly Bear did not hesitate, instantly becoming the point of excellence.

A four man group, Grizzly Bear is particularly noteworthy for their album Yellow House. On this release, the band mesmerizes with gorgeous atmospherics and stunning vocal harmonies. Haunting sounds both disturb and welcome the ears and it’s nearly impossible to distinguish particular singer. Yet this is a true strength of Grizzly Bear – they sound like a group, and they’re endlessly compelling.

Their live set works to enhance this feeling of group excellence. The group walked out together, with instruments placed close to the audience. While this was a practical choice (as to allow the Radiohead material to stay behind them, but still ready), the feeling was of crowd connection. A very sparse style of performance was to follow – no theatrics, no random dancing around, and no insane light show. However, the extraneous showmanship was unnecessary. Grizzly Bear owned my mind from the first note.

There were four songs that stood above the others (a large percentage of their short set). The newly debuted “Two Weeks” was even more amazing in person than on Letterman. Peppy keyboards drive everything as a strong bass line keeps a melody apparent. Ed Droste’s singing is powerful and emotional as he tells us, “Just like yesterday, I told you I would stay.” It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the background “Whoas” that appear throughout the song. The strong sounds, the clear singing, and the attitude exuded toward the crowd all added up to a real whole that must be experienced.

Another powerful memory is from “Little Brother.” Performed as the electric version seen in the Friend EP, “Little Brother” was absolutely epic. Here, Dan Rossen took vocal and guitar leads, creating a powerful sound. However, the real treat occurs in the second half of the song, where two sets of soaring guitars drive the action, as Droste also joins the noise. The combined might of tough bass, pounding drums, attacking Rossen guitar and beautiful Droste guitar creates a near-deafening blast that is insane, intense, and an absolute blast when live. Really, the only adjective applicable is “epic” – your ears will be simultaneously in pain and elated.

The third song that is easily brought to mind is “Knife.” Already a winner on Yellow House, Grizzly Bear makes “Knife” into an absolute showstopper live. Thanks to amazing supporting vocals by Chris Taylor (hitting notes that no human should reach), the piece is elevated to a point of brilliance. Enveloping guitars, careful drum patterns and (again) stunning vocals make this a song to remember.

While each of these songs is amazing, the true highlight came at the end of the Grizzly Bear set. Here, it was commented that the audience should “prepare to have your minds blown” in reference to Radiohead. Yet, the statement couldn’t have been more accurate to describe Grizzly Bear’s closer – “While You Wait for the Others.” A hallow, echoing guitar sound brings you into the song, with Rossen controlling the affair. But, the group effort shines through here. An amazing secondary guitar part from Droste pulls attention near the end as Ed also proceeds to hit sorrow-filled (and appropriate) notes vocally. Everything adds to a loud, crashing finale which dips away to near-silence at the very end. This fitting conclusion leaves a great taste and a grin across the face of all listening.

Originally, I read that the Radiohead show in Camden was billed as a headliner with Grizzly Bear as the opening act. Now that I’ve seen Grizzly Bear live, I feel that such an analysis is a bit inaccurate. As far as I’m concerned, I came to see a double-headliner. Grizzly Bear was fantastic live, and I can’t wait to hear from them again – their new album may be out by the end of the year.