Grizzly Bear and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Saturday, March 1
photos by Timothy Norris
You knew Saturday night was turning magical when a roustabout in the audience at Walt Disney Concert Hall let out a yelp of glee during the LA Philharmonic's octane-fueled performance of Igor Stravinsky's “Firebird” suite. It was right after one of the peaks – I think it was during the Infernal Dance part, when the brass section collides with the strings like a tanker-truck hitting a freight train. The bellow, much deserved, poked a hole through the classical propriety, and, emboldened, the orchestra simmered into the beautiful lullaby of the fifth section like a barely lit ember.
The Phil, under the guidance of assistant director Joana Carneiro, moved through Benjamin Britten's "Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes" and Luigi Boccherini's Ritirata notturna di Madrid (Luciano Berio's 1975 kinda-sorta remix) with joyful ease. The three pieces, chosen in conference with Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear, showcased dynamics, moved from gentility and grace to chaotic release. 18446/
Grizzly Bear took the stage after brief intermission, and the room, which during the orchestral part was bathed in neutral light, turned black, as if the shades were suddenly drawn. For the rest of the evening, Disney Hall shifted from burgundy to gold and green and back again, painted the four handsome men of Grizzly Bear -- Daniel Rossen (voice/guitar), Ed Droste (voice/keyboards/guitar), Chris Taylor (bass/clarinet/flute/effects) and Christopher Bear (percussion) -- with a glisten, made them seem like they were lit up from the inside.
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The bells that dot “Easier,” their first song, rang like fine champagne glasses toasting the beginning an elegant dinner party; they drifted through the hall in cascades and pirhouettes, and from that first moment Grizzly Bear owned the crowd. The band, one of the best in America, delivers a curious mix of folk, indie and art rock, creates this unclassifiable bouquet of beauty which has at its center some of the most stunning, spot-on harmonies recorded this century. Drawing from girl groups of the 1960s, from the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel and those ethereal choirs on Martin Denny exotica records, from the Ink Spots and the Comedian Harmonists and the Flamingos, Grizzly Bear's four members, each an accomplished musician in his own right (three of the four members first met at high school jazz camp), on Saturday night seemed touched. Against the backdrop of Frank Gehry's angular organ pipe sculpture, the show felt as much like church as it did a rock concert. When, during “Knife,” which sounds like the Velvet Underground backing a doo-wop group, Chris Bear let out an Yma Sumac-esque falsetto wail, he stood on his tippy toes like he could barely reach the note he was trying to hit, and once he grabbed hold of it, he held onto it as if for dear life. (“I wish my clarinet teacher were here,” said the affable Bear during a break. “She would be so proud of me.”)
The band's two principal vocalists, Edward Droste and Daniel Rossen, swapped songs throughout the night. When they played “Little Brother,” which Rossen sings high in the register with a chrome-plated tone, “My little brother was a solemn one,” your heart breaks because of his ability to infuse the line with so much sorrow, but lifts when he draws from deep within to declare, “my little brother will be born again.” All four men locked into a run of “aahhhs” as strong and tight as anything on Pet Sounds, then moved into a loud bass, guitar and drum crescendo as noisily harmonic as Sonic Youth in their prime, before letting the volume dissipate into the ether. Droste sang the gorgeous “Marla,” written, he explained, by his great aunt in the 1930s. It sounded like an ancient song -- something about the melody recalled Kurt Weill – but Grizzly Bear dusted it off and shined it up until it sparkled. They did this over and over again, created beautiful set pieces so rich with texture, melody and wonder that you felt like you were witnessing not only a great performance by a great band, but something more important, something truly special, something that fifty years hence will be recalled by those who attended with an eye-twinkle and a smile.