On a brisk Sunday evening, Brooklyn-based quartet Grizzly Bear charmed a sold-out Riviera Theater with enough instrumentation to score a small country. Basking in the shimmering glow of a stage adorned with floating Chinese paper lantern-style lighting, the band launched effortlessly into a set heavy with tracks from their latest album, Shields.
This time around, everything is a touch more grandiose. The dynamics are further polarized, the harmonies more dramatic, the lights brighter – so much so, their ambitious arrangements require an extra set of hands. Aaron Arntz (Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros) has joined the band for the tour, adding auxiliary flair to the already dense mix with synthesizers, horns, and sporadic blips from his gear cave at the back of the stage.
The Shields material translates seamlessly to a live setting. New visual effects take on a far stronger role than previous tours, but as a musical enhancement rather than a main element. “Speak In Rounds,” “Sleeping Ute,” and “Yet Again” rely heavily on the well-synchronized quiet/loud structure, which was significantly heightened by the use of vivid color and strobe lighting. This scene creates an emotional roller coaster for an audience not quite sure how to react to the wall of sound presented. One spectator even started crowd surfing to Yellow House live staple “Lullabye,” much to the band’s bemusement. There’s a first time for everything.
Grizzly Bear is very much a musician’s band, attracting fans ranging from glee club students to established sound engineers. Every member multi-tasks in a labyrinth of effects pedals, pianos, and guitars strewn about the stage like pieces of a chemistry set. Multi-instrumentalists/singers Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, and Chris Taylor have mastered their routine – hardly breaking concentration from their intense roles (with the exception of Taylor’s giggling fit during his signature falsetto on “Knife”). Percussionist (and Chicagoland native) Chris Bear, celebrating another hometown show with various family members in the audience, dominated his drum kit with explosive, epic fills during new tracks “Half Gate” and “Sun In Your Eyes.”
This is a group of men who know their craft and pride themselves on presenting complex music with a bare bones stage show. Taylor never strayed from his nest of woodwinds and strings as he experimented with looped saxophone harmonics and faint flute embellishments on “What’s Wrong” and “Cheerleader.” Rossen, who was too ill to perform at a cancelled private WXRT-FM promotional show scheduled that morning, delivered a gorgeous rendition of “While You Wait For The Others” and suffered through the set without fail – his feverish countenance glistening as he grated the guitar strings.
Grizzly Bear has continuously gained respect and critical acclaim over the years, and Sunday night they solidified their reputation with Veckatimest ballad “Foreground.” Droste’s voice filled the majestic theater with warmth as the stage darkened, leaving only a smoky haze over his silhouette. The evening ended with a striking unplugged rendition of “All We Ask.” All noises and gadgets were silenced, leaving only a cappella harmonies, acoustic strumming, and audience participation like an intimate summer picnic sing-a-long. No spotlight, no gimmicks. The music spoke for itself.
— Gina Pantone-Urwin