Photo credit: Jill Faure
Ah, Twitter, how useful thou art. Having spotted that Grizzly Bear are playing a show in Hyde Park with an excellent support lineup including Efterklang, Magic Arm, Memoryhouse and Here We Go Magic, I went a-knocking on the email account of righteous TLOBF editor Richard “The Thane” Thane, and manage to shoehorn myself in last minute as someone’s plus one. I imagine an idyllic park setting, dappled sunbeams playing over the grass, sipping cold cider under the pink sunset as Grizzly Bear take the stage… a perfect summer evening.
But The Serpentine Sessions is, it turns out, a kind of mini-event stapled onto the side of Hard Rock Calling. Essentially, the two main acts play the Hard Rock Calling second stage, housed in a big blue tent rather than under the cloudless blue sky; then there’s a tiny bandstand-style stage of the type you might find hosting commercial product demonstrations in a shopping centre for the unfortunate supports. Someone I’m with notes the promoters shrewd use of the stages to squeeze a bit of extra cash out of the park stage set-up. The outdoor stage hulks, silent and unused, just visible above the fencing to our right.
So, it’s hard to muster up a sense of occasion. The assembled tourists, occasional sore-thumb hipsters and the just-out-of-work office crowd sit drinking and chatting over the first few bands on beanbags and picnic tables. Memoryhouse are unfortunately over by the time we get in after an irrelevant 6.45pm bill placement. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Magic Arm, playing tonight in his superior solo incarnation rather than with his session band, as people chat over his semi-audible twenty minute set. Here We Go Magic sound potentially epic, especially during the long buildup of “Tunnel Vision”, but this setting, notably without even a backdrop or a single light to draw the audience’s attention to the stage, has clear limitations. The bottom half of the bill seems to have been added to beef up the lineup with little thought for how it would actually work as a show, and these bands deserve better.
Efterklang are in the sonically safe confines of the tent, and stroll through a set of characteristically lush orchestral pop. They are all smiles, as always, and the gentle rhythms and persuasive melodies are pretty and enjoyable, if not quite distinctive enough to burn themselves onto my memory. I always enjoy Efterklang as a kind of ongoing haze of warm sound without ever really remembering individual songs, but maybe that will change in time.
Grizzly Bear are reaching what seems like the end of an era after touring Veckatimest relentlessly for the last year and a half. “We’ve been in London a lot this last year and you guys have been amazing,” says Ed Drosde. “This is the last time we’ll be here for a while.”
So, it’s nice to enjoy the set Grizzly Bear played at last year’s festivals one last time, in front of their distinctive glowing fireflies-in-jars staging. They do everything we’ve come to love them for: soaring harmonies, gorgeous melodies, chiming guitars, ringing autoharp; implausibly precise and artistic drumming, moaning organ and heart-stopping arrangements. Veckatimest is aired pretty much in full, with a couple of tracks from Yellow House thrown in. Grizzly Bear look entirely at ease on the stage, and a mellow sort confidence radiates from them throughout their hour-long set. These are some good-hearted dudes, at the top of their game.
What comes next for them? I can’t wait to find out. But the sheer quality and confidence of Grizzly Bear’s show saved this underwhelming event from being a sunny summer washout.
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Memoryhouse will headline a very special “TLOBF Presents” show at The Social, London W1 this Friday, 2 July. Also featuring performances from Visions Of Trees, plus UK debut appearances from How To Dress Well and Prizes. Video artist Jamie Harley will be providing live visuals for all of the acts. More info here, get tickets here.