To say expectations were running high at the Barbican tonight would be an understatement. With critical darlings Grizzly Bear accompanied by the world-renowned London Symphony Orchestra and curly-haired songstress St Vincent providing the support, this had Gig Of The Year potential scrawled all over it, possibly in giant fluorescent letters. That it failed to achieve that accolade is not to denigrate an impressive performance from Brooklyn’s finest harmonisers, but the lack of epiphanal moments that by rights should have been plentiful was a disappointment no amount of sumptuous orchestration could surmount.
St. Vincent by David Emery
The slightly underwhelming tone of the evening was set by St Vincent’s maddeningly inconsistent opening set. Ditching her band for loop pedals and a violinist (whose input was superfluous at best), Annie Clark radically re-arranged her material to accommodate this stripped down set-up with wildly varying results. The rework of ‘Jesus Saves, I Spend’ was creatively effective and ‘Marrow’ was pleasingly faithful to the original but Clark too often descended into aimless meandering that sacrificed tunefulness for “LOOK AT WHAT I CAN DO” effects geekery. With many songs rendered virtually unrecognisable (and not necessarily in a good way), her love of experimentalism served her badly on this occasion, coming across as inaccessible, even self-indulgent. A missed opportunity from an artist who could and should have been better- a claim that could also apply to the headliners, though to a far lesser degree of magnitude.
Grizzly Bear by Anika Mottershaw
That’s not to say Grizzly Bear were bad of course, far from it. Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen were on fine form throughout, although bassist Chris Taylor’s angelic falsetto particularly impressed time and time again. The percussion was nicely propulsive too, even if it did have the tendency to overpower the orchestra- a problem apparently even more pronounced toward the back of the venue. Nico Muhly’s arrangements for the LSO were generally excellent, if slightly too ostentatious; ‘Knife’s” quiet charm was almost overwhelmed by luscious but over-exuberant strings. In some cases the orchestral parts were more substantial than the tunes they were meant to enhance- for all their multitudinous talents, the songs themselves can be a little slight, structures to hang the marvelous harmonising on rather than great compositions in their own right. Indeed, it’s telling that the highlight of the set was a song they didn’t write themselves, the delightful ‘He Hit Me’ more emotionally affecting than much of their self-penned material. A rushed, anaemic ‘Two Weeks’ was the only genuine disappointment of the night (they really missed a trick not employing the orchestra) but the band’s inability to capitalise on the many opportunities to truly astonish continuously stopped this show from reaching the transcendent heights it was clearly capable of. Consistently excellent but never brilliant, Grizzly Bear promised so much, came tantalisingly close to delivering but in the end, fell short of being the all-time classic we were all hoping it’d be.
Grizzly Bear by Crazybobbles