Grizzly Bear and Beach House @ The Roundhouse 14.3.10

Last year, Grizzly Bear played a solitary date at Koko. This year, they’ve booked the Roundhouse for the weekend and sold it out. What’s changed?

There’s a multitude of different factors that you could suggest. They appeared on the Twilight soundtrack, so they’ve roped in that tween demographic; they got Jay-Z appearing at their shows, so they’ll have some Hip Hop fans interested; and Two Weeks served as the backing to a dozen romance scenes in American dramas and was most notably used in a Volkswagen commercial during the Super Bowl. They’ve gotten a lot of mainstream rep in the past year. And then there’s the small fact that Veckatimest was, you know, actually a pretty great album. Oh, and they’re also being supported by Beach House who are kind of big deal themselves. The weekend is a Baroque pop dream ticket.

On arriving Beach House are already on. You wouldn’t know it from looking as the stage is plunged into complete darkness, though Victoria Legrand’s booming vocals shatter any illusions of a non-performance; she even cracks a few jokes, delivered in unwavering deadpan, which goes some way towards dispelling the band’s reputation for introverted awkwardness and portrays an image of a band much happier, much more at ease with their sound.

The duo blitz through a set mainly compromised of material from Teen Dream, much to the crowd’s delight, well, as much as a crowd can show delight for such delicate, melancholic music; they sway rigorously, attentively nod and applaud. The band’s recent dabbling in a grander, more cinematic sound translates well to a large venue. In particular the soaring 10 mile stereo, whose shimmering guitar and rushing drums gain that extra immediacy when translated live; it’s expansive, big-sky sound is more in the vein of the American road-trip than a Northern-line excursion, but it works.

There are a few missteps: the session drummer fluffs a few of his lines, which is particularly jarring with such a minimal sound and a few of the classics are notable in their absence – only Gila gets an airing from Devotion – but they have got an album to sell.

Grizzly Bear, on the other hand, have no such obligations to worry about and should be able to craft an immaculately paced set with the choicest picks from a considerable discography. Only they don’t. Starting at an amble and slowly picking up pace, it took a few yawns – in the politest possible way, the gentleness of the folksier numbers and the peculiar warmness of the Roundhouse meant It was sleepy in a relaxed way rather than a bored one – and a couple of clock glances before it really got going with the intricately built crescendos of Fine for Now, a song that you’re always aware of what’s coming, but never fails to stagger. Droste’s and Rossen’s guitar lines harmoniously interlace with one another before the song erupts and they crash together in an ecstatic squall in the song’s final surge. It’s the closest they venture towards a genuine guitar solo and has the irresistible effect of making the crowd nod their heads that little bit harder. The show continues to pick up pace as Victoria ‘Beach House’ Legrand reappears and performs Slow Life, the Twilight song, and Two Weeks, the Volkswagen song; the familiarity and the Beach Boys quality of the latter, and the novelty of having the girl from Beach House back on stage gets the show going for a while.

It’s a short-lived streak, though, and the gig falters back to a restrained level of decorum and sensibility. Such a understated performance worked well at Koko last year, but here at the Roundhouse it never quite pays off; it feels a long way from the stage when all there is to look at are four men bent over their respective instruments and a stage set-up that could be politely described as ‘subtle’; it can feel further yet when all you can hear is an acoustic number.

It’s not all their fault, though. The Roundhouse is working against them in ways that can’t really be helped. It’s always been somewhere where even the most consummate of professionals has struggled to get a tight sound. For the stripped-down set up of Beach House it wasn’t really a problem, but for the Grizzly Bear it’s crippling. They’ve always been a band that has strived for an immaculately crafted sound in and outside the studio: their live performances strive for note for note perfection, the harmonies are tight and improvisation is minimal. They want to bring the album to you. Such is the dedication that during the psychedelic swirl of I Live with You, the bassist pulls out a radio – from somewhere – and fiddles with the dials to create an effect layered so deep on the studio version it seems ridiculous; the often cavernous sound at the Roundhouse makes it even more so.

Despite all that, it’s a spirited performance and when they do hit the highs, as they do the aforementioned track, thanks a little to the radio, they really do hit them and it’s a pleasure to be in the presence of one of the best bands around at the moment. They seem to feel the same way, with front man Ed Droste reiterating a lot of, seemingly earnest, surprise and humility over playing here. The pleasure taken in playing to a London crowd is obvious. It’s just a shame London can’t provide a suitable venue that loves them back.

MP3: Grizzly Bear – Fine For Now

MP3: Beach House – Zebra


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