Two songs into Grizzly Bear's set at the Roseland on Dec. 9, a milestone occurred—drummer Christopher Bear busted the head of his bass drum.
As singer Ed Droste made clear, this is a rare mishap for most bands, and especially theirs. After all, this ain't exactly Slayer we're talking about. But the incident also underscored the great misconception about the Brooklyn-born art-rock quartet: They might toil in quietude, but their music isn't soft.
Getting going again following a brief interruption, which Droste filled by answering audience questions about movies and Michael McDonald, the show contained all the texture and hushed dynamism of their records—not an easy feat, given the Roseland’s often muddled acoustics.
While new album Painted Ruins works better on headphones than onstage, the choir-boy harmonies on older songs like the angelic "While You Wait for the Others" and pop crossover "Two Weeks" still raised goosebumps. Stagecraft isn't their strongest suit, but the set design—a canopy of fabric that, as the lighting changed, alternately resembled a cave, a coral reef and the Upside Down—gave the performance a transfixing, almost painterly atmosphere.
As much as the band is regarded as one of the key acts of the Great Indie Rock Explosion of the Late Aughts, the show proved that Grizzly Bear's singular sound stands outside of any specific time and place. Long may they roar.
All photos by Abby Gordon.