Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Where the Bears Are

March 02, 2008

Grizzly Bear are (l-r) Chris Taylor, Edward Droste, Daniel Rossen, and Christopher Bear

One of the most popular tactics for getting butts (particularly young, firm ones) in American orchestral hall seats these days in a post-music education world is the indie-rock collaboration. Take an orchestra, create some reason for them to play in or around an independent pop-rock outfit and presto – instant event. The Oregon Symphony proceeded into these grounds this year to much clucking by opening the door to what could be described as an endorsement with the possibility of other collaborations with Portland hometown hero Thomas Lauderdale and Pink Martini. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is no stranger to this tactic either and in the last several seasons has bent over backwards to add shows during their major programming initiatives, which include a wide variety of independent rock, electronic, folk and other artists. So this weekend's one-off concert that paired the Philharmonic with the lo-fi indie outfit Grizzly Bear is no surprise. Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear, under the guidance of founder Edward Droste, has made a reputation for playing loosely structured pop with a heavy dose of electronics but not necessarily big beats. (And for those of you needing clarification they should not to be confused with Bear Force One.) Saturday's show was conceived as an “intimate evening of sensory immersion” with both organizations playing individual sets. The show began with the LA Phil playing “selections hand-picked by Grizzly Bear and the LA Phil, reflecting classical music’s influence on the band’s sound.”

Nor Grizzly Bear (Bear Force One)

OK, whatever. I’m not sure exactly how true this is, especially since Daniel Rossen and Philharmonic conductor Joana Carneiro made no attempt to argue either before or during the show how works in either half were related to one another. When he came out on stage with Caneiro at the show’s start, Rossen was clearly surprised to see the near capacity crowd filling the hall, but his pre-show commentary was restricted mostly to a “wow, we’re glad to be here” moment. Still, both sets were quite strong and there are certainly connections that can be drawn between Grizzly Bear’s music and the pieces chosen for (or by) the LA Phil. The show started with a Berio arrangement of Boccherini’s Ritirata notturna di Madrid that employs some of the same layering techniques that Grizzly Bear has a fondness for using: in the latter's interpretation, recorded loops of flute or clarinet to augment a song's arrangement. Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes followed and is atmospheric and arguably loosely structured in a way reminiscent of the band as well. Finally, Caneiro led a very lively version of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite that was enthusiastically received by an audience that clearly was not as experienced with this kind of music as many that have filled the WDCH over it’s first few years. If the goal was to get a young crowd in the house and impress them with some very well-played accessible bits of 20th century music, the strategy seems to have worked.

After the break, Grizzly Bear took the stage and delivered a number of favorites from Friend and Yellow House. The amplification was a bit of a problem and the vocals sounded echoey at times but this hardly seemed to matter in these low-key unstructured songs. The set ran for just over 90 minutes and was stronger than what one might expect given the results of such acts in this venue over the last few years. The group's quirky and open-ended sound filled the space, making the band seem much bigger than it actually was. Things never exactly rock or take off, but the songs have enough hooks that they draw one in, not unlike the super hits of the 70s at times. It was actually a very enjoyable evening all around. And even if the programming idea was just a cheap excuse to throw everybody together for one night, who cares when the results are this good.

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I loved the evening as well. I wouldnt' say it was a cheap excuse, but rather an interesting juxtaposition that worked rather well.

a few notes

1. that was daniel rossen at the beginning introduction, he's clearly not great with words

2. the show was entirely sold out as I had friends that wanted to come but couldn't

3. I thought their sound really filled out the room in a nice way. I'd seen them before at spaceland of all places and this was a far better environment to soak up their sound.

I 'd say it was one of my favorite shows of the last year.

thumbs up all around

How right you are. I stand corrected.
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