ConcertHop: The National and Grizzly Bear
Written by Bwog Staff
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.