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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Grizzly Bear & London Symphony Orchestra w/ St. Vincent (Barbican Hall, 31/10/09)

It is Halloween. A bar owner is repainting the door of his bar in Camden, hundreds of Londoners are queueing up outside fancy dress shops to buy their last minute Halloween costumes and a strange man who tries to sell us some "relaxing scents" thinks that my friend Jessie is my wife. But for some, in all the rabble of hectic city life, there is an anticipation of events to come that doesn't just consist of drinking your own weight in alcohol and sleeping with a woman who you don't realise isn't wearing a Halloween costume until it's too late. For some, they are waiting patiently for Grizzly Bear, the Brooklyn-based psychedelic folk band, and their one off performance with the London Symphony Orchestra. Everyone is excited: Edward Droste, the founding member of the band, as evident from his Twitter; contemporary classical composer Nico Muhly, who scored arrangements for the event; and, presumably, the thousands of fans who are dotted around London, scratching their beards and waiting.

As the occasion grows closer, there is almost a sense of magic in the air, from the zombies and ghouls we pass on our way to the venue to the eerie light bulbs in jam jars that surround the stage as we take to our seats. As the lights dim the audience is thrown into silence as St. Vincent takes to the stage with a guitar and violinist. Playing a stripped down acoustic set of material from her d├ębut album 'Marry Me', and this year's follow up 'Actor', she performs with an energy that, whilst showcasing her sincere passion seems almost out of place given the grand surroundings. Layering guitars and violins with looped vocal tracks, Annie Clark's voice sounds heavenly, her small structure rising up to the challenge of impressing the attentive audience of the Barbican Hall. She says little to the crowd in her 35 minute set, but opens up towards the end; "[Grizzly Bear & LSO] are gonna make your jaws drop". Regardless of what Ed Droste & co. would do, Annie Clark had already succeeded in that.

The few remaining seats in the hall are quickly filled up as the lights go down for a second time as the London Symphony Orchestra take to the stage to polite applause. Soon after Grizzly Bear themselves emerge, to a less subdued applause and the occasional cheer. They cruise through a set of songs from their latest two albums, 'Yellow House' and 'Veckatimest', making full use of the orchestra on all tracks apart from fan favourites 'Two Weeks' and, the highlight of the night, 'While You Wait For The Others'. All four band members prove their worth as talented vocalists as well as playing their respective instruments; Chris Taylor pulls off a stunning vocal performance on 'Knife' in particular. Daniel Rossen's voice sounds just as delicate as it does on record, but elsewhere Ed Droste's voice is not always the strong force Grizzly Bear fans are used to; in places it seems weak and does not always hold up well against the orchestra.

Maybe because of the breathtaking performance of the band themselves, the orchestra seems almost unnecessary; Nico Muhly's arrangements in some places losing the momentum of songs. The swirling crescendos in (what I thought would have been a highlight of the night) 'Ready, Able' are at one point replaced by pizzicato violins, which detracts from its beauty. Maybe some would have benefited from a lack of orchestra, but Nico and LSO prove their worth on numbers such as the grand Central and Remote, and the close of 'Veckatimest' and their set tonight, 'I Live With You' and 'Foreground'. Another highlight comes in the magical cover of The Crystals' 'He Hit Me', taken from Grizzly Bear's 'Friend EP'. Despite some of the unnecessary orchestration, the band leave the stage to a standing ovation before coming back on for a dreamy rendition of 'Colorado', the last song from their 2006 LP 'Yellow House'.

It is the day after Halloween. The paint has dried in the door of the bar in Camden, Londoners attempt in vain to obtain refunds on their party outfits from the night before, and Ed Droste, in posting another update on his Twitter account, echoes the thoughts of thousands; "We'll never forget it."

Photos from


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