It’s not every Riverbend concert that you get “perfect” Cincinnati weather. Grizzly Bear and Spoon brought perfection to the stage and the air. A surprisingly cool early summer evening, with a stellar sunset at Riverbend is a treat by itself. Enjoying this group of artists only added to the party.
After an stellar performance from Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, working the cables and dials on a modular synth and crooning like a 24th century robot, Grizzly Bear hit the stage. The unique set included huge fluffy stalagmites that evoked both an expansive cave, and flying through a cloud, with a colorful light show transforming throughout the evening.
Grizzly Bear is a group of stellar musicians. The four-piece ensemble filled most of their set with songs from their 2017 album, Painted Ruins, but peppered in old tracks throughout. The songs are rich and textured and fill the air with far more than the sound of four individuals performing. This craft is clear in the intensity each of the performers brings to the stage, and the general seriousness they took to the event. For them it was clear, it was a performance art. The guys are focused and sensitive to the construction of the songs - as if they were crafting them for the very first time on stage in front of the crowd.
The songs are not great sing-along tunes, but instead feel like orchestral pop music. As apropos on a film score as an indie rock record. The lyrics are dense and integral to the harmonic layering that has become their signature. Ed Droste’s vocals are typically not stories as much as helpful elements to the overall timbre and intent of the musical themes. He and the group can create emotive and figurative songs that can seem to swing from grooving beat to towering chorus and back to withdrawn progression fluidly.
Spoon’s headlining set was a perfect complement to Grizzly Bear’s sonic focus. The band is clearly comfortable on the stage, with lead singer Britt Daniel engaging the audience, activating the whole stage, and generally stealing the show. The group has over 20 years of their genre-defining indie rock tunes to pull from, and they’re coming off of the underrated 2017 release, Hot Thoughts. The band has a familiar sound, full of catchy hooks and clever beats that kept the audience rocking on their feet long after the sun went down over the river.
Britt and the band ride a line separating rock royalty and undiscovered new talent. Unless you’re intimately familiar with their discography, your constantly reminded by how they sound like they’re both inventing a new sound and that each song feels eerily familiar. They have “a sound” but it’s not easy to immediately identify. In a weird way, Spoon has a way of sounding just like themselves, which is a truly authentic way to put on a show. It’s a joy to watch and listen to them work.
Spoon and Grizzly Bear share the stage 3 more times this week (Columbia MO, Des Moines IA, and Minneapolis, MN). Grizzly Bear has a European tour scheduled for August.