Review and photos–Grizzly Bear at the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, Dec 7 2017
The acclaimed indie band played a packed house in support of their latest record, Painted Ruins
– photos by Pavel Boiko
Grizzly Bear at the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, Dec. 7.
A particularly ominous fog cloaked Vancouver on the night of Grizzly Bear’s return to the Pacific Northwest. The band’s set design at the Orpheum mirrored its outside surroundings–a crumpled silk scrim material framed the stage like a heavy mist. But when Illuminated by white and blue stage lights, the stage looked like a limestone cave. The dark opening in the middle is where Grizzly Bear would appear for their audience, after five years of hibernation.
Well, hibernation would be an overstatement. Since the release of their 2012 critically-acclaimed record, Shields, each member of the band–vocalists and co-founders Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen, drummer Chris Bear and bassist Chris Taylor–have been traveling, raising families, working on solo projects and exploring other passions (SPIN reports that Taylor is trying his hand at a culinary career). In between those commitments, they also began the writing process for their latest LP Painted Ruins.
More organic evolution on Painted Ruins
Due to the group’s conflicting schedules and varying geographical locations (they all previously lived in Brooklyn and are now scattered across LA, Santa Fe, the Catskills and occasion, parts of Europe), they explored new ways to collaborate and create. The record saw Bear and Taylor playing bigger roles in songwriting and ideation. Previously, Droste and Rossen had taken the lead. The band also explained in an episode of Song Exploder that songs came together far more organically this time around. They’d start with a drum feel, a synth hook or a guitar chord and improvised on these layers until they found a combination worth developing and finessing into a full song, and eventually an entire record.
This patchwork and pragmatic approach results in a rich, confident record. On Thursday, at least, the refined sound and attitude translated flawlessly in their live performance. Grizzly Bear’s Vancouver set began with Painted Ruins‘ lead single, “Four Cypresses”. It announces itself with militaristic drums, lathered with haunting synths and Rossen’s evocative voice. This song, along with “Cut-out” and “Fine for Now” from their breakout record Veckatimest, were a reminder that the band had not only one but three incredible vocalists in their armory. Rossen’s powerful and raspy tone, Droste’s soulful and controlled timbre and Taylor’s soothing and velvety voice coalesce into some of the most beautiful harmonies in modern pop and rock music.
Two Weeks stands out
Switching gears, they offered the audience–a few hundred of Vancouver’s horn-rimmed glasses wearing, plaid clad, ultra-hip twenty to thirty-somethings–some higher-energy numbers like the indie-cum-funk “Losing all Sense” (which wins the night for most groovy bass-line) that ends in a shoegaze-leaning eruption of guitars and the ’80s synth-pop reminiscent “Mourning Sound.”
The gut-wrenching tracks “Sleeping Ute” and “Yet Again” from Shields fit in perfectly with the new additions to their repertoire. However, one song in particular stuck out like a sore thumb–their most commercial single, “Two Weeks.” In the context of their evolved, mature compositions that so easily play with liminality and complex sound progressions, the song that put Grizzly Bear on the map felt a little derivative and syrupy. But the band gave their fans the sing-along they wanted and got back on track with more ambitious songs from their history.
At the beginning of the set, Rossen crooned a line from “Four Cypresses” that captures their new record and how the band has evolved. He sings sagely, “It’s chaos but it works.” It’s in that space of improvisation and the unknown that Grizzly Bear have actually found their home.