It was two years ago that I dropped in the Empty Bottle to catch Grizzly Bear on the recommendation of a friend. They were supporting their first record, Horn Of Plenty, and they were so striking that I attended their performance the following night at a near west side gallery space. They were just developing as a four-piece, experimenting with instrumentation and arrangements on the road, on the fly.
The Grizzly Bear that took the stage Friday night at Subterranean was a different beast. They have since released a stellar second record, Yellow House (Warp), toured extensively with TV On The Radio and persevered through family illness and European gear thieves to position themselves as one of the more challenging and important bands of this moment.
The rich, expansive tonal palette they achieve through use of xylophones, auto-harp and the traditional rock complement (sans kick drum, notably) flesh out otherwise simple guitar driven numbers, accompanied by delay-drenched four part harmonies. The Horn Of Plenty material, written by singer Ed Droste, has been tightly honed and sharpened. "Fix It" developed a ballsy quality not evident on the record. A sparse arrangement of "Shift" allowed the harmonies to breathe, weaving the affected voices into an eerie aural latticework.
The capacity crowd inhaled collectively upon the first stroke of "Knife," the band's first single (the video for which is a must-see) from Yellow House. Bassist Chris Taylor's falsetto was remarkably faithful to the recording as drummer Chris Bear's precise, pummeling percussion laid the framework for Droste's baritone croon. The night ended with one of Daniel Rossen's songwriting contributions, the beautiful "On a Neck, On a Spit." The song's innate dynamism and drama was intensified in the live setting, leaving the crowd in feverish applause that abated only as the lights came up.