Live Review: Grizzly Bear at the Wiltern Theatre, June 19 2009

Not unlike Fleet Foxes, who exploded from the Pacific Northwest as an earthly manifestation of flannel-clad lumberjacks bearing glorious Beach Boys/CSN&Y-like choral offerings, Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear issues calling cards in the form of melodious vocals, flawlessly blended in some magically delicious way that has Starbucks’ food lab attempting to reverse-engineer the process — because no doubt — if you could order a $6 latte that tasted as good as Grizzly Bear’s vocals sound, you would.
Not a Grisly Affair: Daniel Rossen and his mates out of hibernation at the Wiltern (photo by the author).

Not a Grisly Affair: Daniel Rossen and his mates out of hibernation at the Wiltern (photo by the author).

It was that siren call that yielded a sold-out Wiltern Theatre last week for what the band reported was their largest headlining show to date.  And for dyed-in-the-wool fans of the group, the experience must have been a dream come true, because Grizzly Bear delivers every last note of their dream-like vocals live as on record.

Clear favorites “Lullabye,” “Cheerleader,” “Knife” and “Two Weeks” (dedicated to friends of the band who had been married for — you guessed it – two weeks) were all in full effect, as was “On A Neck, On A Spit” and a gorgeous rendition of “Deep Blue Sea.”

But seeing Grizzly Bear live is also not unlike receiving a hand-job or finger-banging, which is to say – it feels good when it starts, but after awhile, you really need to move on to something else in order to achieve satisfaction.

This isn’t to denigrate the band or their performance in way – after all, one shouldn’t look a gift manual release in the mouth.  But to carry the analogy to its logical conclusion, after about 40 minutes, it became clear that a mouth was precisely what was lacking.

If Grizzly Bear has a weakness, it’s that as musicians, they’re talented to a fault.  The paradox is that because they possess the laudable ability to recreate live exactly what they record, they have not yet tapped into a performance dynamic that showcases anything more.  Once you scoop your jaw off the floor from where it sat for the first 20 minutes of their set, realization sets in: they’re not particularly animated on stage, and don’t pace their set to keep themselves sounding fresh throughout the show (at least on this night) — all of which makes it harder to remain compelling to a crowd of 2,300 for a sustained amount of time.  So with little to see and not much difference to hear, it could be argued that Grizzly Bear live isn’t essential for any but the greatest of fans.  Because like that hand-job or finger-bang, what starts off great has the potential to evolve into something of a turn-off.

On the other hand (because the first one is getting tired), there is a sense of wonder to seeing four souls gel as one on stage the way Grizzly Bear does, accomplishing what they do live – if for no other reason than it seems like a lost art.  We’re at a place in history when it’s getting difficult to remember that once upon of time, the biggest stars in music could only be talented – they had no choice to play and sing live with every bit of excellence with which they recorded – which was also done live.  Actually, in those terms, the fact that the Grizzly Bear is so mind-blowing is in some ways sad.

Regardless, Grizzly Bear is far and away one of the most incredibly talented acts to emerge in recent years, so it’s certain to be just a matter of time before they dial in their live performances to something more indelible.  Until then, it’s enough to stay at home and lie on the floor in the dark with one of their records on, soaking in the keen songwriting and lush, otherworldly textures.

And give yourself a proper hand-job.

Or finger-bang.

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