ConcertHop: The National and Grizzly Bear

Written by

Nervous energy borne of coffee and unfinished CC papers pervaded Lerner as the tech crews set up for Bacchanal’s annual spring concert last night. Kids who arrived at 8 p.m. camped out near the white plastic barricade like they were at Webster Hall ca. 2003 waiting for the Get Up Kids, or maybe Interpol. In any case, they came, they clustered on the floor, they took out a laptop or two to maximize efficiency. WBAR jockeys spun the de rigueur ambient noise and obscure electronica, and the elite with green backstage passes perched near the merchandise table.

It didn’t take much prying to determine that a lot of people at the show arrived sans knowledge of what they were in for, despite Bwog’s best efforts to the contrary. And if they thought “indie rock” was in any way related to “rock and roll” apart from the implementation of the same instruments, the first swirls of Grizzly Bear’s atmospheric noodling hopefully set them straight. But lukewarm crowd responses, ample chatter among the grad students in the back—including one prescient, tight-pantsed character who had slipped a Stella Artois into bone-dry Lerner—and bored-looking couples glued to the auditorium chairs all indicated a lack of rapport between band and crowd, give or take the clusters towards the front who hummed along to each four-part harmony.

To be fair, security had pressured the bands into starting before the 9 p.m. mark and would not let balcony occupants down into the half-filled main space—not quite conducive to mass musical rapture. Although the audience swelled to several hundred students, each security guard and walkie-talkied event patroller reminded one that school was still in session.

Remarkably, Grizzly Bear adeptly and faithfully worked to translate the melancholy of their music to the Roone stage by employing drum loops and ethereal percussion, recorder, clarinet, flute. Even if their choice of songs to transform into guitar-heavy danceable tunes—”Knife” and “On a Neck, On a Spit”—was rather predictable, they uncrossed arms and set heads bobbing. Midway through “Fix It,” GB finally broke through their artful malaise in a shimmering clap-a-long, drawing appreciative cheers from the audience.

The National, meanwhile, got rockers rocking and rollers rolling. The band belongs to a special constellation in the indie firmament—the quality older guys who play their instruments really well but still like to rock out despite their seasoned veneer. For instance, when the Wrens performed at the NYU Skirball center two Octobers ago,
they ended the show by asking which kid wanted them to perform and party in his dorm room for the rest of the night. The National didn’t quite extend the same offer, but they did establish an instant crowd connection, aided by bassist/guitarist Aaron Dessner’s confession that he had graduated from Alma Mater some years ago—and his outing of their keyboardist as a Columbia dropout. They began with the sublime “Start a War,” the ideological twin of their later fan-favorite “Fake Empire,” and divided their set between massive dystopian numbers like “Mistaken for Strangers” and “Secret Meeting” and impassioned rockers “Squalor Victoria” and “Abel,” which incited frenzied pogoing in the middle of the audience—generally a good sign that people are actually having fun.


Tags: , , , ,


  1. Nothing Sadder  

    Than that one hipster girl in the back dancing a jig by herself.

  2. just because  

    people weren't dancing much for grizzly bear doesn't mean they weren't having fun; their purpose isn't to make you jump up and down

  3. Wilson from Omaha

    I thought the show was pretty meh. These bands are so over.

    Would've preferred Daft Punk. Rumor was that they were coming on after The National.

  4. hipster de jour  

    first off, to the people who wouldn't stop taking flash photos throughout the national's set:

    FUCK. YOU.

    another hearty fuck off to the idiots who wouldn't stop spinning and bouncing all over the place, or wouldn't shut up during either set. how fucking hard is it to go to a show and not be a jackass?

    that said, both bands played really good sets, and i was impressed with the sound work. lighting ... not so much, especially for grizzly bear.

  5. the whole

    balcony ticket/floor ticket was really shitty. It would have been one thing if I had known ahead of time about the situation, but showing up with your friends at 8:30 then being split up was really frustrating. Especially as I got to watch the floor slowly fill up. If I wanted to sit down at a concert, I would have gone to see Neil Diamond or something.

    But kudos for the Get Up Kids reference. I'm still bummed I didn't get to go to that one.

  6. numanu


    Webster Hall ca. 2003 waiting for the Get Up Kids, or maybe Interpol.

    or maybe patrick

    ...onesidenote interpol well worth waiting for! even if it is 2008

  7. come on  

    Fuck hipsters and fuck Columbia for continuing to take the fun out of student life, for sequestering the spring concert into Roone of all places and abandoning the Steps as venue for a show. How can a pair of shitty acts inside Lerner at night compare to a warm spring day's concert on the steps? Even though it was drizzling during Ghostface's set the show was still awesome.

  8. random  

    Good thing I didn't waste my time at this lackluster show.

  9. up in balcony

    I thought the show was pretty good, but for something called the Spring Bacchanal it was dark (literally) and somber. Up in the balcony, the only time it looked like anybody was having a good time was when the neon-green t-shirts were being tossed up to the crowd.

    Also, Berninger probably shouldn't have mentioned that Harvard got Kanye West for their spring concert... I'm not sure he got the reaction he was expecting.

  10. note to bwog  

    referring to one concert you happened to go to two years at NYU does not constitute evidence that your "old guys who play their instruments well but also rock out" categorization is a meaningful or justifiable one. to the contrary, it just makes it sound like you're really excited to get to work in an anecdote from this one cool show you went to.

  11. senior  

    "indicated a lack of rapport between band and crowd"

    OBVIOUSLY. This music only appeals to a small population. This is why we complained when the line up was announced.

  12. Ehh

    I liked it. At least we had a concert.

  13. columbia  

    had kanye and john legend a few years ago. wyclef was here for 250th anniversary too.

    also: i got to the concert as the national was starting. and then i found my way up against the banister/front row. pity i missed grizzly

    • yes

      that's true, but because very few people on campus now were here then, that argument doesn't quite work, because people only care about what they know. Knowing that previous Columbia students got to see Kanye West or Outkast doesn't make me feel any better about the largely mediocre bands I've gotten to see during my 4 years.

  14. john b.  

    I understand the complaints about not getting "mainstream" (i.e. bad) acts to perform at the show, but if you weren't into the bands, why would you go?

    Both bands played great sets, and, aside from the idiot behind me who needed to sing along to every National song (generally out of tune), I really enjoyed it.

    • yeah  

      wait, that might've been me... but i was in tune... the girl next to me was off key the whole time...

      it was a good show.

    • Please  

      Mainstream doesn't necessarily mean bad. It would just be nice to see that our school cares enough to attract big name talent. There are unknown groups who play at Smoke every now and then who are better than most of the stuff out there, but it doesn't mean they should play what should be a HUGE concert. Once again, Columbia failed its students. No donations from me.

      • Honestly

        To everyone who wants a "mainstream" performer: it costs more. MINIMUM six figures for anybody currently anywhere near the top of the charts. Since roughly half the comments seem to think even $40,000 is a waste of student life fees, what do you suggest? How is withholding your alumni donation going to solve anything?

        There's a tension between not wanting to spend any money at all and wanting an artist that costs five times as much as the ones who've been performing lately.

        So, any constructive criticisms rather than complaints that it was either too expensive or not expensive enough?

  15. alum

    "like they were at Webster Hall ca. 2003 waiting for the Get Up Kids, or maybe Interpol"

    dammit, that makes me feel so old [tunes out to british sea power album...]

  16. cccol

    I thought grizzly bear were great. I hate that venue though and the sound isn't great in there

    steps would have been fun
    am I the only one who found the national dull and boring?

  17. Wilson from Omaha

    No, not the only one that found The National dull and boring. When you're playing to that crowd at that venue, I'm not sure how much you can really ask of a band.

    Let's hope they never waste student life fees on this again.

  18. cccol

    you know what I was happy when they announced this show, but I have to agree that it was poorly organized and the space was depressing and it wasn't very spring time and festive. I mean it's sort of hard to judge either band considering the crowd/venue ....

    I've seen grizzly bear play one of the best shows I've ever seen at this amazing seated venue last fall and it blew my mind. this cavernous room of antsy kids was not exactly ideal.

    That said, I still much preferred their set to national.

    Something about that guy's voice is just so monotonous. Goes nowhere for me

  19. you really felt  

    that your insides were being eaten? i really don't see how wondrous harmonies can be seen as negative or physically afflicting

    grizzly bear was amazing

  20. yu8yyiy

    the wrens, the walkmen, broken social scene, wilco, the national, the jayhawks...

  21. Wilson from Omaha

    So did the number of American Apparel leggings, slip-ons, sundresses, and designer sunglasses increase on campus today? It's hip to conform.

  22. terminal 5  

    Terminal 5 is terrible.

    Obama where you at? he would make sure we had a good show

  23. Wilson from Omaha

    Yeah, that's not remotely funny. Good try though.

  24. heres the thing

    Having the concert outside at least makes it somewhat enjoyable even if you don't like the music. Sitting outside, drinking a forty, watching columbia students pretend to be cool and enjoying the spring weather is at least a little fun even if you don't love the music.

  25. heres my thing  

    all those things about being outside are more enjoyable inside, you could easily have been drinkin a king cobra in the auditorium...additionally, who gives a fuck about everyones opinion of these bands, i believe folks would have had way more fun if they were drunk (somehow i feel that these sort of events elsewhere become parties for the sake of being free and at school), sorry but any type of rock music sounds better intoxicated, hence there would be a lot less complaining going on here

  26. Optimistic  

    I give Columbia Concerts and Bacchanal credit for getting two good bands and presenting a free show. Anyone who is complaining about this clearly has no idea what goes into organizing an event of this scale.

    Seriously, though, we live in New York, which means we can see the best bands in the world whenever we want. Does it make you feel special if The XYZ Band comes to perform in your school's auditorium rather than for $15 at Bowery or $25 at Webster? Is this all just a competition to see what school is the coolest based on the artists it hosts? Snap out of it. Ludacris didn't choose Penn over Columbia because he determined that Penn was cooler; Penn obviously shelled out lots of money. So what if Brown had an amazing lineup this year? Tickets were $10 for students and $15 for non-students on top of whatever amount of money the university shelled out and, more importantly, Shows on the par with their spring concert lineup are relatively rare in Providence, while this is not the case in New York (obviously).

    My only complaint is that more people could have fit on the floor, which would've created a better vibe.

  27. hmmm  

    I thought the point of getting mainstream bands was so more people would enjoy the concert. I agree that certain bands/groups are really played out, but I'm not a hipster so I don't really know these groups.

  28. an Idea  

    How about Columbia Concerts and Bacchanal figure out who they can afford with their limited budget, put up a little online poll and let students vote on who they want to see.

    That way we won't end up with niche acts that appease the (admittedly large) hipster minority while pissing off everyone else.

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.