Midway between their set at the Paramount on Friday night, Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear took time to call out four people in the audience who, seven years ago, attended their show at the Funhouse.
"They were there, and about four other people were there," said Droste.
"That's a scary place!" said Chris Taylor, who is a Seattle native.
The days of Grizzly Bear playing for eight people are, of course, over. Four albums into their career, the band--Droste, Rossen, Taylor, drummer Christopher Bear, and, for this tour, keyboardist Aaron Arntz--execute their songs with a well-oiled, easy precision. Their set showcased new songs from the band's grandiose new record, Shields: The burnished guitars on "Sleeping Ute" sounded sharp and exciting, so did the quickened, piping keys on the poppy "Yet Again." The mix of songs achieved a satisfying balance of fast and slow and old and new; it could also be said that Grizzly Bear has so many good songs that there's no danger of a lag ever occurring in their set.Droste, Rossen, and Taylor all switch up instruments throughout the show; Taylor especially exemplifies the word "multi-instrumentalist": He performed most of Yellow House's "Lullabye" on his knees, alternating between a flute, a clarinet, and a bass guitar. (He also played saxophone on a couple later songs). Much of the allure in Grizzly Bear's music also lies in the back-and-forth and blend of Droste's and Rossen's vocals--the natural vibrato of Rossen's and the smooth clarity of Droste's. At Friday's show, their voices sounded particularly ghostly and beautiful gliding and coming together over the heart-thudding disjointed instrumentals of "Ready, Able." If there is a match for Droste's pure falsetto in rock music today, I can't think of it.
(The magic of the show was visually enhanced by the brilliant lighting design; the stage was hung with a row of dangling vertical lights that sometimes dipped up and down on invisible wiring, looking like paper lanterns with trailing tails of smoke or one-tentacled jellyfish, and sometimes remained still and glowed orange like ghastly faced jack-o-lanterns. The spotlights flashed bright whites during climactic songs like "Two Weeks" and dimmed to soft pink on slower numbers like "Foreground." It was a beautiful light show.)
Grizzly Bear is known for their intricate song arrangements, but it might only be possible to really appreciate all of those elements in a live setting, when, before your eyes, the songs are tied together and brought to life by their small, well thought-out touches--the occasional regal trumpet line, the drumsticks clacking on the snare rim on "Knife," Droste and Taylor sharing a mic to harmonize on "All We Ask." The latter song closed the encore, with Rossen strumming an acoustic guitar, repeating with his bandmates the final lines--"I can't/Get out/Of what I'm into/With you"--slowly and gently winding down the song and the show.