Grizzly Bear w/ Foreign Born

Saturday, 03 March 2007

There are shows that elbow you so hard in the face that you think you’re either 1) going to die because your nose may have pierced through your skull, 2) dancing so hard your shoes are melting off, 3) simply moshing at your finest. And then there are those shows that leave you stunned, silenced and sometimes even displaced. Well into the next week, in my case.

It was like everyone in the world was at the Troubadour to see Grizzly Bear last Wednesday. And I’m not just saying that because the show was sold out and Devendra Banhart was there joined by half of the UCLA student body. Being a Westwood resident myself, carpooling is one of the more reasonable things to do in the 30 minutes it takes to get to the venue (that’s 4.8 miles + 20 minutes to park, mind you). By the time we picked everybody up, turned on Santa Monica and sang along to the first half of The Kinks’ The Village Green, we had long missed opening band the Papercuts. We made it in just in time to score a drink and catch Foreign Born, who pounded out song after song full of guitar buildups and had a front man who seemed inspired by none other than an Odelay-era Beck.

As for Grizzly Bear, they could just as well have been playing in a far-off field. Throughout the set it seemed the Troubadour crowd held witness to an event unaware that it was taking place. The quartet started out with the twinkling strings and synthesizers of “Easier,” also the opening song from Yellow House, the 2006 release that warmed fans’ and critics’ hearts alike. The outlines of band leaders Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen were clouded by the fog and chirping echoes of voices interrupted by fluttering banjo scales. The famous neon Troubadour sign, a signpost for L.A. indie band photo-ops, was even covered by what could have been mist or clever lighting. Grizzly Bear became a group of figures moving wistfully in a dense cloud, leaving the impression that the sound was coming from the air of an idyllic past.

Notorious for their noisy sets, it was a surprise to hear a relatively mellow set compared to last year’s Spaceland gig that broke down the walls. This set in comparison lingered on the walls like an acoustic spectre, projecting streams of indiscernible vocal harmonies. The band played a penetrating rendition of the single “Knife,” alternating between so much distortion and quiet strumming of guitar delay courtesy of Rossen.

But perhaps the most special treat of the night was a moody blue cover of The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” led by Droste, showcasing a beautiful Grizzly Bear-ization of girl-group vocal harmonies. It carried the momentum of a Jefferson Airplane song and a reverb that could have taken a life of its own and floated out of the room.

The show ended with “On a Neck, On a Spit,” stretching out the song to its fullest capacity, playing its churning intro with more humble beginnings and crashing through its barriers at the end.

Whether they were playing in a field, a yellow house or a concert venue didn’t seem to matter much by the end of it all. One thing everybody could have agreed upon was there were certainly ghosts haunting the Troubadour that night.

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