Grizzly Bear are one of those bands that you just have to see live to fully appreciate the intricacies and subtle qualities of their music, and a completely sold-out and adoring Billboard crowd were treated to an amazing performance from the Brooklyn band, in one of two Harvest Festival sideshows.
Following on from their performance at the Melbourne leg of the festival over the weekend, the band drew heavily on their latest release Shields, as well as older favourites from Veckatimest and Yellow House, in a set that clocked in at just under two hours.
Singer-songwriter Kirin J Callinan opened the night, beginning as a solo act with coarse vocals and fuzzy guitars; he was soon joined however, by a four-piece, all-female backing band.
Even though he is signed to Grizzly Bear’s own Chris Taylor’s record label (who was spotted enjoying himself among the audience throughout the set), Callinan seems an odd choice for an opening act, with loud and harsh guitar sounds and at times abrasive feedback not doing much to catch the attention of a largely disinterested crowd holding out for the main act.
A thoroughly unnecessary removal of his shirt also did nothing to warm the crowd to his act.
After quite a lengthy break, Grizzly Bear finally strolled onto the stage, joyfully reminding the crowd that the venue used to be a strip club before launching into ‘Speak In Rounds’.
As Ed Droste’s spellbinding and striking voice drove the song to an epic conclusion, it immediately made it clear that it was going to be a special night.
After playing at The Palais for their previous Melbourne show, Billboards may have seemed a somewhat strange venue choice for the band, but these fears were quickly alleviated with the explosion of sound at the end of ‘Yet Again’.
Likewise the building crescendo of ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ provides the band’s heaviest moments, and is perfectly suited to the smaller stage.
With Yellow House stand-out ‘Lullaby’ introduced as “officially not a festival song,” Grizzly Bear displayed the subtle layers of their music, with added whistles and expertly-crafted harmonies seeing all four members lending vocals to the mix.
The talented Chris Taylor is surrounded by an array of instruments on stage, and when he’s not playing bass or delivering vibrant vocals, he can be seen playing the clarinet, saxophone, or flute, creating the intriguing textures and layers that define the collective’s sound.Shields translates gloriously to the live setting, with every song except for ‘The Hunt’ making an appearance.
The quartet were joined by keyboardist (and at times trumpeter) Aaron Arntz, who has been playing live with the band for their current world tour.
The newest member made his presence felt with a spectacular stage dive during the soaring chorus of ‘While You Wait For The Others’, much to the amusement of the rest of the band.
A Grizzly Bear concert is probably one of the last places you’d expect to see a crowd surf, and Droste, who admitted to “cracking up” during the song, stated that it was only the second ever stage dive in the group’s history and thanked the audience for entertaining them.
Daniel Rossen’s powerful vocals were brought to the fore on ‘A Simple Answer’, backed by Chris Bear’s driving drumbeat and brooding piano sounds, as well as pitch-perfect harmonies from the other band members.
Veckatimest-closer ‘Foreground’ sees the crowd fall utterly silent, enchanted by the sparse, haunting song featuring Droste’s vocals and Rossen on piano. The most uncomplicated and restrained moment of the set, it provides a brilliant contrast to the rest of the show.
‘Two Weeks’ provided the most upbeat moment, and one of the few sing-a-long opportunities, as the crowd move in unison with the happy members on stage.
Chris Bear’s drumming is something to behold in the live setting, being both consistently interesting and masterfully restrained, providing the solid basis for his bandmates’ experimentation.
After incessant requests from both the band and the crowd for a drum solo, Bear somewhat delivers, treating the audience to a lesson in the paradiddle to begin the encore.
It’s moments like these that makes those in attendance seem they’re truly experiencing a unique live show, with the band also seeming genuinely happy and honoured to be playing, and the audience relished every moment of it.
An inevitable encore was filled with older tracks, including fan-favourite ‘Knife’, welcoming another crowd sing-a-long, with Taylor’s impossibly high and soaring vocals stealing the show.
A revamped version of ‘On A Neck, On A Spit’ followed, before bringing the night to a close with a special stripped back acoustic rendition of ‘All We Ask’.
The intimate version brings the audience even closer to the band, featuring only Rossen’s guitar, Bear’s subtle percussion, while Droste and Taylor share a mic. The reworking suits gloriously and brings the night to a stunning conclusion.
It seems that as good as a Grizzly Bear record can be, it can only fully be comprehended in the live setting, and the band’s sold-out Melbourne show displayed the band’s music in all its glory.