of Maine

Grizzly Bear at Boston’s MFA, 8/14
Photo by Tim Bugbee, for the Boston Phoenix

Photo by Tim Bugbee, for the Boston Phoenix

In the four times I’ve seen Grizzly Bear in the past 18 months or so, neither their set list nor their songs have changed a lot. But a sense that the band continues to grow, improve, and enjoy their rapidly elevating status remains. The band got a night off from a recent stint opening for Radiohead to play in the courtyard of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts two weeks ago. Clocking in at a little over an hour, it was the longest and perhaps the best set I’ve seen the band play. (The surroundings, all brick walls and ivy, certainly helped.)

The one fairly valid qualm one could levy about a Grizzly Bear show is that a lot of their songs sound the same, which would be problematic if they weren’t all so complicated (and not to mention, if the band sounded much like anyone else). My favorite Bear, Christopher Bear (seriously), is a drummer of immaculate technique, mostly styled on subtle jazz technique but also tapping cymbals with his hand and (if my friend is to be believed) using a delay pedal to create special effects. Chris Taylor, as ever, is everywhere at once, laying effects on his guitar (and others that he’s not playing), planting background vocal loops and clarinet lines. Ed Droste is a giant, lanky and awkward, with the choir boy voice and hard to identify instruments. And Daniel Rossen’s got the glorious baritone guitar and the voice you probably like better that Droste’s more technically impressive pipes.

The MFA show found most of their Yellow House material in peak form (I’m especially fond of what they do with the album’s highlight, “On a Neck, On a Spit,” beginning with a new intro that renders the song unrecognizable before its careening climax). Tracks from the Friend EP (which has some dispensable remixes, but too many essential originals to ignore) were more hit or miss. Their cover of the Crystals’ subversive pop song “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” has grown tired – the bassy guitar lines pop up often in better songs – but “Little Brother (Electric)” continues to be a galvanizing rocker.

The band played at least four new songs, one which I don’t recognize, one which is too plodding and repetitive (bad video/audio from All Points West here), and two other golden cuts you may have heard before. “Two Weeks” and “While You Wait for the Others” are the best indicators of the sound of Grizzly Bear’s forthcoming “pop” album, simple, familiar tracks elevated by killer vocal harmonies (best in the business, for my money). I always get a chuckle out of Rossen’s bridge on “While You Wait…”: “I’ll ask you kindly to make your way.” Almost goofy, but he pulls it off, and the band’s confident enough in the song (and their web-friendly audience, I suppose) that it’s already an ideal set closer. You can download nice recordings of those two songs from Gorilla vs. Bear.

Openers Violens, featuring members of Lansing Dreiden… meh. I can see why the band chose them – Smiths-y emotional new-wave pop/rock – but they were about as generic as that descriptor.

– Elsewhere, Gawker’s got a heart-felt and intersting post about Harper’s, the magazine I most encourage you to subscribe to (both because it’s big and cheap – about $15 bucks a year for monthly issues – and because it’s super liberal without being dumb, which is rare IMO). Follow the link to the “Moby Duck” article, one of the more memorable pieces I’ve read in there since subscribing.


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thanks for crediting my photo! btw, more shots of the band are on my site (MFA and their opening slot for Radiohead).

Comment by tim bugbee

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