Saturday, September 25, 2010

Phoenix and Grizzly Bear at the Hollywood Bowl, 9/18/2010

After a brief respite, it was time to get back in the concert groove with an interesting show at the Bowl, one of the best venues in Southern California.  Though I've never listened to their most recent album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, all the way through, this was the third time I'd seen them this year, so they must be doing something right.  Grizzly Bear, on the other hand, is a band capable of great beauty and ponderous effort, sometimes within the same song, but I'd been told over and over that I needed to see them live to really appreciate what they do.

Before Grizzly Bear was Girls, a band in love with noisy guitars and many of the same 50's and 60's pop music that Joey Ramone and Jarvis Cocker have drawn from for years.  When I caught some of their set at Coachella this year, I actually had to plug my ears at one point to save myself from the feedback onslaught, but on this night they took it easier on us.  Though they only played for twenty-five minutes at most, it was a fun set, the band clearly enjoying themselves and trying to make a good impression.  I'll be wanting to see them again.

After a frustratingly brief break between bands--curfew, lame--Grizzly Bear came on, starting with one of the standout tracks from last year's Veckatimest, "Southern Point."  On record, many of their songs take a few listens to really grasp, but live there's a whole new immediacy that compensates for the sneaking suspicion I get that they're trying too hard.  Take away some of the art house hangups I have, and you have an immensely talented band, with four members who can all sing (majority frontman Ed Droste especially) and play.  Their vocal harmonies on songs like "While You Wait for the Others" and the insta-classic "Two Weeks" are nothing short of beautiful; I could probably listen to just those two songs on repeat all day.  Just to beef things up even more, they brought Feist out to help on "Two Weeks," my favorite moment of the night.  "Ready, Able" and "While You Wait for the Others" were similarly grand, as were all of the older songs I didn't know.  It was a short set, but even the vastness of the Bowl couldn't hamper the intimacy and scope of what they were doing.  People who'd been telling me to see them: you were right.

When it was time for Phoenix to start, they came out with hardly any lights or decorations, lead singer Thomas Mars' mere arrival on stage enough to make the packed house go crazy.  Bookended by the band's two big hits, "Lizstomania" and "1901," the set started and ended really well, but they diverged in the middle from what I'd seen at Coachella and Outside Lands.  After six or seven songs, they started playing an instrumental piece that was more exciting than most of the songs before it, with Mars (who doesn't play an instrument) strangely lying on his back near the front of the stage.  Two lights slowly crawled up either side of the arch over the stage, and then a large screen came down, but the band stopped for a moment instead of wowing us with a big crescendo, and then played another instrumental song.  All of the music was good, but it felt anti-climactic and hurt the momentum of the set.  Finally they kicked into a full-fledged song again, and then played a darker, slower cut that was probably the best of the night.  All in all a good performance, but the set list construction left something to be desired.  Maybe I'll go out and pickup that album finally, but maybe not.  It's kind of fun to have a live affair with a band instead of an all out musical relationship.

Photo by Armando Brown, Orange County Register

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