After an eventful 2018, the Hollywood Bowl’s summer season is quickly drawing to a close. That much is made all the more clear when as was the case tonight KCRW’s concert series, the World Festival, has reached its final installment for the year. The months-long series was closed out by Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio–two acts who, despite vast differences in sound, became two of prominent exemplars of Brooklyn-based indie rock in the late-’00s.
What makes TV on the Radio and Grizzly Bear so much more remarkable is their consistency on an album-to-album basis, even (like in the case of Grizzly Bear) after a nearly five-year break between albums. There aren’t a lot of indie artists at all that can enjoyably fill an hour-long set at the Hollywood Bowl while keeping the crowd enthusiastically involved, let alone maintaining the audience’s attention throughout. But with each band yielding five good-to-great album’s worth of material to showcase, it wasn’t a problem tonight. Both Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio delivered sets that were professionally-executed, deviating just enough from the recorded material without changing too much.
Beginning the evening was electronic artist Caitlyn Aurelia Smith, who’s set happened just as the sun began to set behind the Hollywood Hills. She performed solo on stage with a massive electronics board, weaving a fascinating tapestry of experimental, ambient and occasionally danceable music. While she was the only musician on stage during the set, she was joined on-stage by a trio of dancers, who gradually slithered their way up to the stage. Their choreography was jolting and a bit jarring, though clearly filled with emotion and telling a story to accompany the music.
The intermission period between performers at the Bowl is refreshingly short, so TV on the Radio took the stage just about 10 minutes after Aurelia Smith finished out her 25-minute set. The band’s lead singer Tunde Adebimpe kicked things off with his trademark vocals, singing out the opening lines of their song “Young Liars,” one of the oldest songs in the band’s catalog. The band’s performance was tight, with Adebimpe being joined by core members Kyp Malone and David Sitek on guitars. As usual, they featured a multi-instrumentalist who most importantly provided some woodwind and brass to the tight experimental rock sound.
From there the band swung to the opposite side of their discography, playing a song from their most-recent (but almost four-year-old) record Seeds, “Lazerray.” The early highlights of the set were the moments they pulled from their classic 2008 album Dear Science: “Golden Age,” “Red Dress” and “Shout Me Out.” Before “Shout Me Out” was played, Adebimpe said that the song was about the climate changing and the emotional toll it takes on people, but then added sarcastically, “but that’s not really happening so this song is a lie.” Return to Cookie Mountain‘s “Province,” on which the recorded version David Bowie provided backing vocals, was an airy standout, flawlessly executed by the dynamic group of musicians. Adebimpe provided the majority of the vocals, but on others like “Province,” Malone would add his one idiosyncratic singing style to the mix.
Adebimpe acknowledged the somewhat awkward fact that much of the audience directly in front of him was casually dining on upscale cuisine and sipping rose, prompting him to ask one audience member, “How was your meal?” While the early going was impressive from a musical standpoint, the audience didn’t fully connect with the band until they played one of their most well-known songs, the 2006 single “Wolf Like Me,” also from Return to Cookie Mountain. With its predictable and fast-paced verses and fist-pumping bridge lyrics “Feeding on fever / Down all fours / Show you what all that / Howl is for” leading into one final singalong chorus, it had the audience standing up, dancing and singing along with the lyrics. They finished out their hour-long set with a joyous rendition of “Staring at the Sun” from their debut LP Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes.
Finishing out the night, and the 2018 season of KCRW’s World Festival, was Ed Droste’s Grizzly Bear. Now based in Los Angeles, their impressive showing at the Bowl is proof positive of how much this band has evolved from its humble origins as Droste’s solo bedroom folktronica project to the major label alternative pop act it’s become. The band was loud and energetic, filling the large venue with their still-emotive and still-ultra-melodic songs.
The band came out of the gates strong with “Southern Point,” beginning with a rambling guitar line and Daniel Rossen’s complex vocal ability, along with Droste giving the opener a bit of a Crosby Stills Nash and Young vibe. Despite having released a new album last year–their first since 2012 at that–the band started out their set heavy on songs from Veckatimest. It’s debatable that it’s Grizzly Bear’s best album, but tonight at the Bowl it seemed like the most impressive performances were songs from that record. Along with “Southern Point,” they played the lushly-arranged, baroque pop of “Fine For Now,” the rambling folk rock of “Ready, Able” and of course, what is likely one of their most commercially-viable songs, the yearning “Two Weeks.”
After the band played “Losing All Sense,” one of the few songs on this evening pulled from 2017’s solid Painted Ruins, Droste mentioned that all of the three protagonists from the music video were in the audience that night, including Busy Phillips–just another little bit of star power that only the Hollywood Bowl can draw in. Also worth noting was the impressive light show and background set for Grizzly Bear’s performance. Hung from the ceiling were large pieces of what appeared to be wrinkled cloth. At times the lighting gave the band the appearance of playing in a massive ice cavern, which was well-suited for their crystalline electronic folk. Later, as they dialed up the intensity and began to sound more like a full-fledged rock group, the lighting turned the set a brilliant red hue, as if the band had been transported to a fiery hellscape.
As many groups disclose as they finish off their set, shows at the Hollywood Bowl are under a strict time limit and an encore wasn’t going to happen. It was evident that during a normal Grizzly Bear set, Droste prefers to engage more with the audience. However, during the limited time he and Rossen could interact with the crowd, they seemed warm and simply floored at the opportunity to headline at the Hollywood Bowl. Another year, another successful World Festival.
TV on the Radio Set List:
Dry Drunk Emperor
Shout Me Out
Wolf Like Me
Staring At The Sun
Grizzly Bear Set List:
Losing All Sense
Fine For Now
While You Wait For The Others
One a Neck, On a Spit
Sun In Your Eyes
File Photo Credit: Brett Padelford