Five years on from their last visit, America’s premier ursine rock act is back in Glasgow to promote their new record Painted Ruins and in the intervening years both the world and their work has taken a turn for the darker.
But before Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor and Chris Bear take to the stage, it’s up to trans-European indie synth rockers Liima to deliver a short support set.
Taking inspiration from Peter Gabriel, they deliver loose, synth funk with deadpan vocals that rather falls flat in the dimly lit venue.
It’s not an auspicious start to the evening but thankfully New York’s finest choral indie boys are soon here to raise the roof.
In front of a moody, grey backdrop that sprawls like a giant spider’s web, Grizzly Bear deliver a set that is notably darker and more abrasive than their previous tours.
Former tour mates Radiohead are an obvious touchstone, but if you got into Grizzly Bear for bucolic indie rock fit for sound tracking barbeques and car adverts you might struggle with the first half of tonight’s show.
Droste does most of the talking and handles the bulk of the lead vocals while Daniel Rossen does most of the guitar heavy work, but the band’s secret weapon is the rhythm section.
Chris Taylor delivers complex winding basslines and crystal vocal peals, while drummer Christopher Bear is a virtuoso; flitting between gentle taps and twitches and rolling, rumbling fills with ease.
Gloomy backdrop aside, the frontman seems in good humour, praising Glasgow and announcing that his mum is in the audience, having flown over the Atlantic for the show.
As you would expect, tracks from Painted Ruins loom large in the setlist with singles ‘Mourning Sound’ and ‘Three Rings’ already sounding like Grizzly Bear classics, but it’s a haunting, blue-lit ‘Foreground’ that sends chills down the spine.
Elsewhere ‘Two Weeks’ flies the flag for Grizzly Bear’s irrepressible and unstoppable gift for an arrangement while ‘Knife’ shows that they’ve always had a mastery of self-laceration that few can match.
As staunch and outspoken critics of America’s controversial Commander-in-Chief, one has to wonder whether the new record owes a debt to the turbulent geopolitical situation that overshadows its release.
Either way, it’s a record that’s heavy on the clanging guitars and doomy, tremulous atmospherics and the group have chosen to reflect that in their stage show.
Lighting is sparse, cold and low and there’s occasionally a sense that the audience are not quite sure whether the band permit them to dance, but when they hit a moment of real beauty like the fleeting, romantic ‘While We Wait For The Others’ they whisk the audience away on a swirling trip with their aching harmonies.
As the audience files out, a drunk Glaswegian tells Ed’s mum, “You have a very talented kid” – he’s not wrong.
Words: Max Sefton