Ready, Able: Grizzly Bear with the London Symphony Orchestra at Barbican Hall

I was there! 31 October 2009.There was a lot of excitement and anticipation growing across Twitter yesterday, including Edward Droste himself (“Tonight is finally the night with the London Symphony Orchestra!! Halloween in London. BOO! (excited)”).  At 9.30 am yesterday, I tweeted “Looking forward to seeing Grizzly Bear perform with the London Symphony Orchestra tonight at the Barbican Hall in London.”  To which I received a nice reply from londonsymphony (“@jemyperds enjoy! See you there.”)  Such is the wonder of social media today.  I had goose-bumps just thinking about the concert beforehand.  The intensity of the evening dawned on me when Colm and I were sat in our seats in the third row of the circle, with a great view of the whole stage, set up for the band at the front, the beautiful mason jar lights arranged at differing heights, and behind them the seats and stands arranged for the orchestra.  This would an incredible combination of three things I am most passionate about – one of my favourite bands on the indie/ alternative circuit together with a renowned orchestra, in an amazing space that is the Barbican Hall.

The crowd was welcoming and quite stoic as the LSO entered the stage to the applause.  They sat down and tuned and already the uniqueness of this performance could be felt in the stillness of the audience.  Edward Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor, and Christopher Bear took the stage along with Nico Muhly, who arranged the orchestral score, and Jim Holmes, the conductor, and the volume of the applause went up a notch.  The orchestra opened Grizzly Bear’s performance of Easier, from the 2006 release Yellow House.  The concert was a feast for the senses – songs from the bands most recent album Veckatimest were familiar and excellently showcased the band’s instrumentals and layered vocals – all four band members sing and their voices and singing styles are unique, complementing each other.  The variety of sounds – from the guitar and drums hurtling Southern Point along like a locomotive, expertly accompanied by the LSO to the playful and popular keyboard opening to Two Weeks to the echoing sounds of Foreground – demonstrated the breadth and depth of Grizzly Bear’s creativity.  The setlist was peppered with tracks from earlier recordings including the ghostly bassline-supported He Hit Me (a cover of the Crystals song), Knife (which to me is reminiscent of 1960s rock pop, more evident on Born Ruffians’ cover of the song), Central and Remote, and the evening’s encore and last song, Colorado.  The lighting was at times ethereal with only the music stand lights for the orchestra, mason jar lights lighting the stage, and subtle spotlights lighting the band and other times dramatic – co-ordinated with the music, cracking the dark hall like lightning or bright and rising to shine on sections of the audience.  I listened intently to pick out the elements of the orchestra – sometimes the sections were distinct with strong basslines coming from the cellos, muted tones from the woodwind section, bright sparks from the trumpets and trombones, and assertive lines from the violins.  But often the orchestra seemed drowned out by the amplified instruments of the band and the delicate sounds were gathered up and lost amongst the variety in the vocal arrangements.  Still, I found the performance moving and the audience appreciated it – it was absolutely silent and concentrated in the Barbican, interrupted infrequently by the occasional flash from a camera.

St. Vincent opened – Annie Clark on vocals and guitar with Daniel Hart on violin, in keeping with a folk-alternative theme for the evening.  They looked somewhat dwarfed on the stage, surrounded by an immense amount of equipment and props, but held their own.  They implemented sampling devices (popular on stage these days) to layer Clark’s live vocals and added pre-recorded instrumentation to enrich their sound and fill the large auditorium.

The Barbican Hall is home to the London Symphony Orchestra.  With a capacity of 1,949 seats, the hall is part of the Barbican Centre, a large performing arts centre owned, funded, and managed by the Corporation of London.  Completed in 1982, the Barbican Centre is situated on the Barbican Estate, a residential community built between 1965 and 1976 on a site badly bombed during World War II, that sat unused and undeveloped post-war.  The Barbican Estate is worthy of a future visit by Look Up, Look Around as it represents one of the most acclaimed mixed-use regeneration projects, that was also met with great criticism.  I will definitely be back – to experience the community and make greater use of the arts, music, and culture that the Barbican has to offer.

Setlist (from bookarooble on Songkick):

  1. Easier
  2. Cheerleader
  3. Southern Point
  4. Central and Remote
  5. All We Ask
  6. Knife
  7. Fine For Now
  8. Two Weeks
  9. Dory
  10. Ready Able
  11. While You Wait For the Others
  12. He Hit Me
  13. I Live With You
  14. Foreground
  15. Colorado (Encore)
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2 responses to “Ready, Able: Grizzly Bear with the London Symphony Orchestra at Barbican Hall

  1. Great review. I was there too (in 3rd row of circle too weirdly) and loved every minute, first time I’ve seen a non classical act get a standing ovation!

    • Hi Fran, thanks for your comment. I go to a lot of gigs and this one was special, very difficult to surpass. November will be a quiet month for gigs (I need to save a bit of money), but Florence & the Machine and Depeche Mode in December (my taste in music is quite varied and a bit eclectic!) Thanks again for reading. Bonnie

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