A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Grizzly Bear, The Barbican, 31/10/09

I was at the Barbican on Saturday to see Grizzly Bear perform with the London Symphony Orchestra. I have been enjoying the soaring, widescreen sound of two albums ‘Yellow House’ and ‘Veckatimest’ recently, with their intricate, layered melodies so was particularly looking forward to this gig. I was quite hopeful that the meticulous construction of these recent albums could be replicated live.

Support came from St. Vincent – a two person guitar/violin act who played a nice, varied mix of tight, hard edged guitar lines to ethereal ambient pieces all underpinned by Annie Clark’s mellifluent, looped vocals. Nice.

The Grizzly Bear / LSO collaboration was promoted as being something more than your usual indie band / orchestra link up – with feted contemporary-classical composer Nico Muhly preparing a special arrangement to complement the songs but not supercede in any way. Things got off to a decidedly understated, restrained start in terms of orchestral score – opening track ‘Easier’ sounding pretty but slightly pared down compared to the fully sound on ‘Yellow House’. Next up was my favourite from ‘Veckatimest’, ‘Cheerleader’. On record it sounds brilliant, the choral backing vocals lifting the song to another level. Disappointingly, the orchestra wasn’t really able to reproduce this live, the strings struggling to make themselves heard against the fully amplified band. The rest of the gig followed in similar suit. The orchestral arrangement seemed very light – almost too respectful of the songs, strangely unable to transform them into the grander version they could have been. It was almost as if Muhly was too disciplined in trying keep the songs intact. The versions of ‘Knife’ and ‘Central And Remote’ were decent reproductions of the songs on the album but again could have been transformed into something else. One thing which came across just as brilliantly live as on record was Ed Droste’s voice – a uniquely muffled, enjoyably garbled sound unlike pretty much anything else out there.

At the start of the year I went to see Elbow record a version of ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ with the BBC Concert Orchestra and even though arguably I think ‘Veckatimest’ could just be a fractionally better album and Grizzly Bear a potentially slightly better band, but on that occasion Elbow did the guitar band / orchestra collaboration thing so much better, each song sounding notably different and vastly improved as a result of the orchestral backing. Sadly, in this respect tonight’s gig didn’t really match this, although it was an enjoyable concert, just not as spectacular as it promised to be.

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