Grizzly Bear and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Walt Disney Concert Hall, March 1
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Grizzly Bear's Daniel Rossen, he of the chrome-toned voice
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Siouxsie Sioux, “on the verge of an awakening”
You knew last Saturday night was turning magical when a roustabout in the audience at Walt Disney Concert Hall let out a yelp of glee during the L.A. Philharmonic's octane-fueled performance of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird suite. It was right after one of the peaks — I think 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 propriety, and, emboldened, the orchestra drifted into the beautiful lullaby of the fifth section.
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 the Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear, showcased dynamics, moving from gentility and grace to chaotic release.
Grizzly Bear took the stage after a brief intermission, and the room, which during the orchestral part of the evening 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, and 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, making them seem like they were lit up from the inside.
The bells that dot “Easier,” their first song, rang like fine champagne glasses toasting the beginning of an elegant dinner party; they drifted through the hall in cascades and pirouettes, and from that first moment, Grizzly Bear had the crowd rapt. The band, one of the best in America, delivers a curious mix of folk, indie and art rock, and creates an unclassifiable bouquet of beauty that 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 pipe-organ 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 Sumacesque falsetto wail, he stood on his tippy toes as though he could barely reach the note he was trying to hit, and once he grabbed hold of it, he held on to 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, Droste and Rossen, swapped songs throughout the night. When they played “Little Brother,” which Rossen sings high in the register with a chrome-plated tone, he infused the line “My little brother was a solemn one” with heartbreaking sorrow, but he raised the spirits when he drew 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 50 years hence will be recalled by those who attended with an eye twinkle and a smile. (Randall Roberts)
Music Box at the Fonda, February 15
The calendar may have read mid-February, but inside the Music Box it was pure Halloweeny: Siouxsie Sioux was in town, and a thousand of her disciples, clad in black (of course), leather, top hats and other celebratory attire came out to worship at her altar.
As the front woman for her Banshees, Sioux is the queen of new wave and goth. In her 90-minute set, it was easy to spot where followers like BjÃ¶rk (in her movements) and Shirley Manson (in her look and demeanor) have borrowed from Sioux. And like any music royalty, be it Dylan, Aretha or Morrissey, Sioux had to do little more than take the stage to receive complete devotion from her legions. Well aware, she made her proper diva entrance on cue, clad in a shiny metallic silver-and-black futuristic ensemble, a moment after her four-piece backing band.
However, Sioux, who recently spoke in an interview about being most concerned with the now, is backing that up. After three decades, she's just released her first solo album, Mantaray, to illustrious reviews; she brought that same vigor and wisdom to the Music Box. Dancing and interacting with the crowd from the outset, Sioux relied heavily on material from the new album, including some of the night's finest moments, like the kiss-off song “Here Comes the Day,” the dance-flavored “About to Happen,” the rhythmic grind of “If It Doesn't Kill You” and the avant-garde German cabaret of “Drone Zone.” And while she dipped into her past, to the delight of the crowd, for songs like “Dear Prudence,” the night's highlight was an impassioned closing version of Mantaray's lead single, “Into a Swan,” a song in which she declares, “I'm on the verge of an awakening/A new kind of strength for me.”
Bellowing “I burst out — I'm transformed” with the snarl that's been her trademark since rising from Sex Pistols fandom to an icon in her own right, Sioux made every person in the building believe those words. (Steve Baltin)