Catch Them While You Can

The current slate of Grizzly Bear shows could be the chamber-pop auteurs’ last performances for some time.

Grizzly Bear. Photo by Tom Hines

Seeing Grizzly Bear live is like witnessing an operatic ode to synchronicity. A myriad of voices blend into one and instruments crash and clamber before merging together, making the group’s distinct brand of baroque indie-rock seem effortless and inherently instinctual.

You could be forgiven for thinking the four members — guitarist-vocalist Daniel Rossen, multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor, drummer Chris Bear, and vocalist-guitarist Ed Droste — emerged from the womb together, banging instruments rhythmically in unison as infants.

The real story is different, however. Grizzly Bear began as Droste’s brainchild: a shrinking, lo-fi bedroom recording project. In fact, Rossen barely knew Droste before the group embarked on their first tour as a fully formed four-piece band.

“I basically met Ed a couple of days before the first big tour we did,” says Rossen, whose group opens for Arcade Fire at the Greek Theater in Berkeley on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21-22. “I was a longtime friend of Chris and Chris, and they introduced me to Ed. We did one rehearsal together, I did some impersonations of the stuff they were working on, and I don’t know — it just clicked. We just went for it.”

The band has not looked back since those early practice days, growing from a one-man operation to an egalitarian, fully democratic, rock group, receiving equal creative contributions from the four members, embossed by Rossen and Droste’s distinct singing styles.

While Droste’s delivery is unencumbered and emotive, Rossen takes a more calculated approach, dropping and raising his register in carefully measured sequences. This complementary relationship contributes to Grizzly Bear’s unique success. Despite dense arrangements and avant-garde song structures — you won’t hear much verse-chorus-verse on a Grizzly Bear tune — the band has attracted a widespread and devoted group of followers. Notable among their fans are hip-hop’s first couple, Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

Their latest album, Painted Ruins, is another testament to their meticulous, ever-expanding songcraft. While Grizzly Bear still dabbles in the hushed chamber-pop that first won them attention, newer songs reflect fearlessness and a confidence in their art. The songs on Painted Ruins are more improvisational and structureless, with tracks that elevate into squalls of white noise or drift into soft patches of minimalist sound.

With the cultural appetite for exploratory, challenging music in indie rock dimming by the day, Grizzly Bear’s staying power has been something of a miracle. Rossen says he is amazed that the group has flourished for so long.

“We all put in a lot of hard work into this band, but we have also been incredibly lucky,” Rossen says. “We don’t ever forget how fortunate we are, especially considering how strange our music has been over the years.”

During their decade-plus career, which took off in 2006 with the release of art-pop gem Yellow House, the members of the group have steadily pursued other interests and forged their own paths. Once part of a tight-knit cohort of young Williamsburg bands that included TV on the Radio and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the group has since relocated from New York, with Bear, Taylor, and Droste living in Los Angeles, and Rossen residing in Santa Fe, N.M.

That distance, along with the regular accouterments of aging (children, marriage) contributed to the lengthy duration between 2012’s Shields and last year’s Painted Ruins. Rossen says the quartet will continue to explore their own musical endeavors, a calculated statement that casts some doubt on when Grizzly Bear will return with a new album.

“We’re going to work on some stuff together and see what happens,” Rossen says. “But life kind of interferes with all that, too — especially as we get older. It’s always a bit of a battle, so I can’t make any guarantees about what will happen next, to be honest.”

Rossen says with certainty that the remaining dates on the Grizzly Bear tour will be their last for the foreseeable future. After playing essentially non-stop since the August 2017 release of Painted Ruins, the group will wind down their tour in October with a series of shows in support of Florence + The Machine.

“If you want to see us, and you can come see us, I recommend that you make it to these shows,” says Rossen. “Because I don’t know when this is going to happen again.”

Aside from the fact that these could be the final local Grizzly Bear performances in years, there are countless other reasons to watch his band perform. A proficient machine on stage, Grizzly Bear accompanies inventive live arrangements with mesmerizing light displays and dazzling set pieces. The band has come a long way from that first tour, when Rossen and Droste first caught one another’s collective bearings.

“Those early shows were mostly us all just being in a circle, with our backs to the crowd,” says Rossen. “I barely knew Ed and neither of us had ever performed live before. I think we have fine-tuned things since those days.”

Grizzly Bear with Arcade Fire, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21-22, 7 p.m., at the Greek Theater, 2001 Gayley Road, Berkeley. $69.50; thegreekberkeley.com

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