In life, there are moments where everything comes up “Jackpot.” On a cold night in October, the Midas touch was afoot. At separate times in 2006 the world was blessed with the releases of Grizzly Bear’s haunting masterpiece Yellow House and TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain. Each album deserved enough praise to make the verbose blogging community look like they have writer’s block. At the opportunity of covering their tour, it would take every ounce of energy to refrain from the “I’ve Got A Golden Ticket” routine from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Their seemed to be a similar anticipation from everyone in the audience at The Starlight Ballroom that night just before the bands began to play. With Grizzly Bear taking the first shot in this quiet-loud one-two-punch of a bill, Ed Droste and company took the pragmatic approach: just play the songs and get on with it. This is because the sound at the Starlight Ballroom seemed unsuitable for multi-dimensional, über headphone-friendly compositions, not to mention there were only four individuals covering what it could take a symphony to pull off. This isnâ€™t to say there were sound problems or the lack of decent equipment, rather there are various studio effects on Yellow House and their first album, Horn of Plenty that, obviously, werenâ€™t going to happen live. However, Grizzly Bear still brought their A-game with circumstances seeming against them. The band didn’t over-hype themselves or their music up through explanation, nor did they engage in much interaction with the audience. In fact, that went both ways as the crowd remained almost as still as a Renoir landscape for the duration. Ed Droste’s tender meek vocals kept the crowd in a hypnotic stasis with temporary lifts on the trance between cuts for applause, which arrived emphatically before returning to the trance as the next song began.
Grizzly Bear’s material thus far has been almost completely fueled by exemplary production. With Horn of Plenty sounding like it could’ve been recorded at the bottom of the ocean, sparse, distant and quiet are most of its arrangements. Yellow House, being the different animal it is contains sounds from another, more peaceful world where each guitar strum or harmonization transcends its indie-folk sound.
The band played songs like “Showcase,” “Service Bell” and “Alligator” from Horn of Plenty alongside Yellow House‘s finest moments like “Lullabye,” “Knife,” “Plans” and “Colorado,” bringing out the music’s essence and spirit without needing the effects, echoes, bells and whistles a studio provides. When the sad inevitability of Ed Droste plainly stating, “Thank you and goodnight, everyone” came to pass, the 300-plus crowd gave Grizzly Bear an applause of 3,000.
The intermission between bands hummed with an electric anticipation. Phrases like, “That was the opener?” and “Wow, we’re in for a night!” could be heard throughout the rumbling discussions in the crowd. There wasnâ€™t all that much time to wonder how TV on the Radio would sound before, out of nowhere, the giant-afro-full-bushy-bearded Kyp Malone with his water-tight t-shirt, David Sitek with his guitar complete with dangling wind chimes, the water bottle-carrying Tunde Adebimpe, wickedly-dreadlocked Jaleel Bunton and the dressed to impress Gerard Smith in his suit.
Almost without warning, they launch into “Dirty Whirlwind” and the night begins to take on a new shape. Tunde Adebimpe’s crooning throughout the opener for this gig coupled with gyrating to the broken rhythm emanated the air of a fuse slowly burning towards a heroic dose of dynamite. “Poppy,” while having a gloomy effect on Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, was injected with more tension via Sitek’s and Malone’s tandem guitars and Bunton’s frenetic use of the sticks.
After the fade-out, with robotic timing, Tunde spun around. For that split-second he wasn’t facing the crowd, an indescribable metamorphosis occurred. Once he planted his feet with his face towards the crowd, the bass opening from “The Wrong Way” seemed to cause a tremor in the venue. As Kyp and David’s guitar’s joined in the action, Tunde began jerking and jumping in a manner that made David Byrne’s antics with the Talking Heads seem like a still pond in an uninhabited section of Northern Canada. Once Jaleel subtly slid his beat in, the crowd started hopping in place so close to being in synch, you’d think the audience was well acquainted. This was only the calm before the storm, as we all found out when the group abruptly exploded into “Wolf Like Me,” the lead single from Cookie Mountain.
Following that raucous one-two punch, the surprise is how well TV on the Radio sustained their momentum considering the drastic tempo change that came next. With the slower, pessimistically pensive “Dreams,” the near-a cappella “Ambulance,” the heavy “Playhouses” and the screamer that is “Let the Devil In” all coming in succession, it wasn’t until after the show that the realization of how, in amateur hands, that could’ve been an aural crash. For their encore, the band played an incendiary version of “Staring at the Sun” while throwing caution to the wind and inviting the crowd onstage. Of course, what little crowd security there was took issue with this by immediately hopping on stage and pushing people back into the crowd. This could’ve been a recipe for disaster, but the audience had no problem receiving its recently departed stage invaders. To sweeten the deal, those that couldn’t immediately catch their balance got courteously crowd-surfed to safety. There was much rejoicing and everyone went home happy.