“So, are you, like, the Queen of Vancouver?” Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste asks me on Saturday night, after an unsurprisingly beautiful show at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom.
He’s being drole, of course, but it’s in reply to my assurances that I’ll help rally the troops to Sunday’s far-from-Sold-Out second show. “No, just the mayor,” I respond – he laughs – and remind him that it’s Canadian Thanksgiving tomorrow night, hence the dip in sales.
“Oh they’ll probably be in a food coma then!” he chortles. He’s interested in the differences between Canuckgiving and USgiving, and I explain the notion of harvest, our First Nations, the similar menus. “It’s weird not having a football game blaring in the background”, says Jana from opening act Lower Dens the next day at turkey time. But more on that later.
Having completed my Canadian cultural ambassador duties, I wander out into the hallway with Grizzly’s Chris Taylor to watch a YouTube video of a fat, hairless cat getting its belly scratched. As you do. See, neither of us believed fat, hairless cats existed, but that’s what the internet is for. And I’m pleased with my find. “IT LOOKS LIKE A TURKEY!” Taylor roars, laughing hysterically. Then he grabs his sax and invites us for drinks.
It’s 1am and my friends from Baltimore, Lower Dens, and I have been doing tequila shots. We’re all tired, but as the Dens’ Jana says “I hate getting to the end of a tour and feeling like I haven’t even hung out with the band who brought us out.” Me, I just hate getting to the end of the night without a cocktail and the company of rad musicians. So Dens’ bassist Geoff Graham, Jana and I hop a cab to Vancouver’s sortaspeakeasy Pourhouse, where we meet up with Taylor, drummer Christopher Bear, touring keyboardist/virtuouso Aaron Arntz and Droste, who comes in later in a fluffy sweater, hugging us all.
We make it for last call, and Graham and I end up in a deep conversation about Facebook, whilst Jana and I sup cucumber gin fizzes. Life is good when it’s the Bears and their Dens and the BSR, hanging at the bar.
The next day, I’m up at 9am with a hangover larger than god, four hours’ sleep, and the need to put my hand up the ass of a 15lb turkey. In a fit of mania a few weeks ago, I’d suggested to the Dens that I make us all a Thanksgiving meal, with all the fixin’s and open up my home, sofa, skull-print Snuggie, laundry facilities and table to them, and they gladly took me up on it. Home-cooked meals are the Wonka Golden Tickets for a touring band. I’m happy to provide. I’m all about harvesting new friends, yo. I also rock the meal, naturally.
They arrive around 3pm, along with my friend Giselle, and we sit down to a sage-and-onion-stuffed turkey, local carrots, red, white and blue (see what I did there?) potatoes, gravy and Yorkshire puddings (my UK twist). Dessert is maple walnut and pumpkin pie ice cream alongside a chocolate fillo pastry. We give good meal. Afterwards, Jana and Walker end up in a tryptophan coma asleep in my living room, Nate’s on the floor on my yoga mat, and Geoff’s passed out in my hammock. It’s rock and roll, this. And rather quite sweet. I almost don’t want to wake the masses and send them off to soundcheck.
Ah, right, the music! I forgot to mention the MUSIC! Lower Dens’ dark and expansive sounds connect better with the Sunday crowd, but the Saturday Grizzly obsessives do start nodding in agreement. Ears are being turned, minds are being shifted. And rightly so. Lower Dens’ new album Nootropics is one of the year’s best. “Brains” into “Stem” once again hypnotizes. “Propagation” brings out that early, early Cure guitar lushness…and Jana’s voice soars over the big room. “Nova Anthem” is a massive hymn for a choose-your-own-house-of-worship. “I Get Nervous” from the ace Twin Hand Movement LP, “Candy”…gah, both amazing. Both nights.
And Grizzly Bear? Grizzly Bear are a gift, really. There’s something just so wonderful about watching a band of multi-instrumentalists and vocalists. And watching them from the sidestage, even. There’s Droste on autoharp, guitar, keyboards, and that voice! Taylor on bass, oboe, sax and that voice! Daniel Rossen on keys, guitar and that voice! Christopher Bear is on all manner of percussion and has a voice too! And as if the stage wasn’t heavy enough with awesome, they’ve also added keyboard/pianist virtuoso Aaron Arntz (Edward Sharpe, Zappa Plays Zappa, etc) who manages a four-tier stack of keys and plays the chopsticky bit on “Two Weeks” on piano. Apparently he’s also killer at Chopin. What a pleasure.
They start in a foggy haze of white light and the glowing jelly fish jar rigs that lighting designer Michael Brown created. It’s “Speak in Rounds”, to start, one of the best off of new album Shields, and I’m in bliss.
Maybe it’s just cos I’m newly single but the lyrics “step down just once/learn how to be alone” have become a mantra. The sound fills the Commodore. For two days, in fact, I’m enamoured with Brown’s lush lights – patterns on Ed’s back, reds, blues and yellows at once, greens and a warm orange… the jelly fish fading in and and out …it’s perfect with the sounds on the stage. Which are, all told across two nights, a grabbag of Grizzly awesome: fiveish from Shields (drool all over “gun-shy” and “Yet Again”). “Ready, Able” (which has a sort of brilliant urgent start), “While You Wait for the Others”, “Two Weeks” (joy! The hit!) and the sexyshuffle of “Cheerleader” all show from Veckatimest. There was “Knife” and a less banjo-y “Little Brother” from Yellow House. After the first show, Taylor claimed it’s the best they’ve done in Vancouver. On Sunday, though, I think they’re sounding better.
Watching Taylor is fascinating, as he grabs for his various instruments and sings and shifts his jaw to do the bits in “Knife.” Bear and Rossen are a bit cranky, says Droste after Sunday’s show as he reclines backstage checking his phone (MUST. RESIST. URGE. TO. INSTAGRAM. THIS.). But as the crew are shifting things out into the trucks, I find Bear afterwards, sitting on amp cases with a glass of whiskey. “That was….fun…” he says sorta mumbling. I’m not sure I believe him.
But the internal workings of a touring band, the tired or the crotchety, the mishmash of personalities, the necessities of living and working close quarters, the realities of traveling city to city, aren’t witnessed by the adoring crowd. And that’s what matters. Grizzly Bear pulled off two enormously beautiful shows.
Taylor leaves before I can really say goodbye properly, though pops his head in to the Den(s) to say hi and disappears down the hall as I yell “How are you?” “SWEATY!!!!” he yells back. And then we head out. There’s a group of 20 or so fans waiting in the cold, and Droste takes the time to meet with each group. We spend time talking about Pacific Spirit park where he went today. “It’s faaaaaaar!” he exclaims as a young man laps up the conversation. “HUGABYES!” the kid says to Droste as he’s leaving, and Ed hugs him.
Then he swings by us, at the Lower Den Van. “SEE YOU IN OAKLAND” he chirps. “GREAT TO MEET YOOO” he waves to me…
…The Queen of Vancouver, wishing the weekend wasn’t over and thankful for many things; amazing live music by lovely people, among them. \m/