Lined up on stage at London’s Brixton Academy, no one member takes prominence over another. Instead, Ed Droste (vocalist), Daniel Rossen (vocalist), Chris Taylor (bassist) and Christopher Bear (drummer) seem to work more like an old-fashioned barbershop quartet in the way they harmonise so beautifully. Each adds their own distinct richness and tone, not just with their voices but the way their instruments weave and dance around each other.
Co-frontman Droste, a sweet and polite presence, announces that the last time they played the same venue was in 2012 and his birthday. It’s not his birthday this time round but there’s a celebratory air to the gig with two attempts at crowdsurfing by fans throughout the night.
They open with ‘Four Cypresses’ from their new album Painted Ruins, an electric beep and marching drum beat coming in slowly, like the steady pulse of someone emerging from a deep sleep as it unfurls into an explosion of jazzy rhythms. ‘It’s chaos but it works,’ Rossen, who is more shy and contained on stage, croons.
The same could be said of their music. Gossamer-thin layer upon layer of hypnotic orchestration over eerie Beach Boys-style vocals to create intricate, wistfully romantic melodies that hint at a mysterious darkness. Their latest LP, released after a five year hiatus, sounds more mellow and fluid than previous offerings, including Veckatimest (2009) and Shields (2012).
Live, ‘Three Songs’ is warm and expansive while ‘Losing All Sense’ is a more playful and upbeat affair. But as well as showcasing new material, there were plenty of crowd-pleasing tracks too. ‘Yet Again’ captures the band’s dreamy energy before it collapses into an intense frenzy while ‘Ready, Able’ is the moment everyone collectively swoons. It’s a gorgeous, shimmering melody with Droste’s intimate vocals soaring high.
When Rossen sits down at a keyboard and starts tapping out a perky piano riff, you know it can only be ‘Two Weeks’. Their feel-good hit is a sugary high that fizzes and pops with pure joy.
There’s also room for much older songs like ‘Shift’ from their debut Horn of Plenty (2004) and ‘Knife’ from Yellow House (2006), throwbacks to a more sparse and atmospheric approach, all hushed vocals and otherworldly melodies.
They’re a reminder of how their music has subtly evolved. Droste started the band as a solo project before quickly expanding into a quartet, with their sound developing into something more multi-faceted and joyful as they leap nimbly between chamber pop, art rock and progressive folk.
Last night’s magnificent gig proves that Grizzly Bear are at the top of their game and one of the best live bands out there with a masterful command of their audience. Make no mistake, they’re ready, able and will leave you wanting more.
Rating: 5/5 stars