The last time I saw Grizzly Bear was June 2013 in Montreal when they co-headlined a tour with The xx. The outdoor venue was a make-shift one in an industrial part of the city, where parking was limited and the closest Metro stop was a kilometre away. Fortunately, the two performances were stellar.
Five years later, Grizzly Bear find themselves 10,000 miles away in Wellington, performing two nights as part of the excellent New Zealand Festival. There’s nothing ad hoc with the venue this time around. Instead of ugly metal and used tire shops, the Brooklyn quartet were given the keys to Wellington’s opulent Opera House. Maybe they were missing the outdoors because the paper-mâché design gave the stage a cavernous feeling (which obviously would be fitting).
With the step up in location comes a different clientele. Those in my row and in front of me were mostly people who probably knew a little bit about the band or nothing at all because other than 2 people no one reached for their phones to snap pics. Or maybe it’s just that Wellington audiences are immensely polite (which they are). Then again, the couple seated next to me often put their hands around their ears when the band went full-on bearish.
Behind me and in the balcony, though, were situated the fans, who applauded loudly at the onset of openers “Four Cypresses” and “Losing All Senses”. They were overjoyed when they noticed the opening guitar or piano chords to favorites like “While You Wait for the Others”, “Sleeping Ute”, “Two Weeks”, “Mourning Sound”, or “Three Rings”. They, including yours truly, were ecstatic to hear them transform “Yet Again” into a multi-sensory experience. It was at first blissful and exhilarating, but then turned into an electrifying rocker (at this point the couple covered their ears) before returning to its dazzling roots.
The lasting memory, however, is realizing how talented each member is. Co-front men Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen are like Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug – terrific vocalists, intelligent lyricists, and underrated composers. Chris Bear is more than just a drummer, as his varied arrangements, which includes him using his hallow vocals as a rhythm, brought life to the band’s more sombre numbers and turning the more rapturous songs into huge anthems. Chris Taylor, meanwhile, is the Swiss Army Knife, who does a bit of everything – vocals, bass, saxophone, flute, moog synthesizer, and what appeared to be a shehnai (which is an Indian woodwind instrument). And he performs each one expertly (check out his solo project, CANT).
Their abilities shone on the concert’s final two songs – “Sun In Your Eyes” from 2012’s Shields and “Shift” from 2004’s Horn of Plenty. Whereas some bands want to leave you on a high with a grandiose finale, Grizzly Bear left the Saturday night crowd in awe and losing their senses at the experience.
We would like to extend a special thanks to NZ Festival and Grizzly Bear for accommodating us. Photos are from Stella Gardiner. Words are by Ben Yung. Read our review of Grizzly Bear’s fantastic last album, ‘Painted Ruins’.
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