I've been privileged to witness some special Grizzly Bear shows over the years. I chanced upon their performance on the beach at Minehead that is used in the All Tomorrow's Parties film, and four years ago I saw them play in a synagogue in Washington DC.
I had considered this Cambridge show to be a cursory warm-up for their main stage appearance at the End of the Road festival, so I was surprised to hear that it was actually their first show anywhere in two years!
Another special aspect to this show is the presence of Perfume Genius in the support slot. I'm not sure how many in the crowd were aware of his music, but he got enough hush to play a delicate 45 minute set without distraction. 'Normal Song' and a minimal cover of Neil Young's 'Helpless' needed some quiet, whilst new single 'Take Me Home' and the slow burning build-up of 'Dark Parts' demanded attention. The beautiful 'Hood' got the best reaction, and it was good to hear 'Lookout, Lookout' and 'Mr Peterson' from the debut album as well.
With the new Grizzly Bear album 'Shields' still the best part of a month away from a proper release, tonight was always going to feature a lot of previously unheard music. In fact they opened with a new song, 'Speak in Rounds', which was immediately impressive and saw Ed and Daniel taking turns at lead vocals. All of their familiar tricks and trademarks were present – classic harmonies and complex arrangements that never feel cluttered and have plenty of room to breathe.
They followed this with one of my favourite songs of theirs, 'Cheerleader', and I had almost forgotten how well the separate parts of the band gel together to turn this song into something special. Chris Taylor's vocals are spot on and, despite their long period away from the live scene, there is no sign of rustiness from the band.
The two familiar songs from the forthcoming album follow this; the ambitious prog leanings of 'Sleeping Ute' and the more straight forward 'Yet Again', and it's clear that this crowd are well behind this new material.
Having said that, the band delve way back into their past to deliver a spacious, almost dubby take on the classic 'Little Brother'. The oldest song featured tonight was 'Shift' (from the 'Horn of Plenty' album) and previous album 'Veckatimest' was well represented with 'Ready, Able', the catchy 'Two Weeks' and a lovely version of 'Foreground' all getting some attention.
A selection of unfamiliar new songs late in the set zapped a bit of the momentum and overall it came across that the music itself seemed to be taking a turn from alt-folk towards prog-rock. The more recognisable 'While You Wait for the Others' closed the main set in style.
The much deserved encore was classy and cool. An unpredictable inclusion of the Crystals 'He Hit Me' seemed to underline what Grizzly Bear are all about. Take some classic pop music and tweak it and stretch it into something new. The always amazing 'On A Neck, On A Spit' closed the evening on a real high and served to remind just how great some of their songs are.
Tonight was another memorable Grizzly Bear show,and it was a pleasure to see them in such intimate surroundings.
Speak in Rounds
Fine For Now
While you Wait for the Others
He hit me
On a neck on a spit