Grizzly Bear and Final Fantasy with the Brooklyn Philharmonic
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Saturday, February 28
Indie rock met the orchestra on Saturday, and the only thing more powerful than the 37-piece Brooklyn Philharmonic was the level of self-consciousness in the room. When the pre-show announcer announced this one of a kind collaboration between the Philharmonic and “indie rock ensembles,” there was nervous tittering. When he added “Twitter later please” the entire audience was practically tugging at their sweater necks like a bunch of Dangerfields. Later, when earnest conductor Michael Christie tried to make some on-stage small talk with Final Fantasy’s shaggy Owen Pallett, he kind of got blown off. Could the navel-gazing world of indie handle the proper, sincere world of the orchestra? Someone’s iPhone clattering to the marble floor was not a good sign.
Final Fantasy’s music is symphonic by nature: a jarring homemade art-pop full of pointy phrases played by sparse string setups. He is preternaturally drawn to the ambitious, grand, sweeping and orchestral–but it was instantly clear that the unique vision of his records depends on having limited resources. His vulnerable whisper-croon can certainly handle a few strings (as heard on 2006’s acclaimed He Poos Clouds). But Pallett was completely lost in Philharmonic string-arranger Nico Mulhy’s Muhly’s ornate arrangements–full of Reichian marimba paddling and atonal string smears. His angular and intimate arrangements were turned to impersonal mush and little storms that brewed behind him. His voice was not powerful enough to carry the rumble of constant bowing, his notes cracking when they attempted the lofty peaks of the bridge in the Clouds title track. But, then again, who’s voice in the warts-and-all world of indie rock is capable of commanding an entire orchestra?
Well, Grizzly Bear at least always aim for a higher standard of professionalism than most bands. They premiere songs on TV, they have four-part harmonies that always hit the tarmac, and their rhythm section so good they might as well play in the Brooklyn Philharmonic. In their 12-song set, they commanded the stage to such a point that it was essentially an excellent Grizzly Bear show where an orchestra showed up to help. The Philharmonic gently amplified the swells in “Easier” and made the bombastic parts of “Central And Remote” even more bombastic. You could even listen to the slow-droner “Colorado” and barely notice their presence of a dozen strings buzzing behind them, it all meshed so tastefully. So assured of their role, Grizz even had the orchestra sit out a while. So entrancing, you could see one of the cellists tapping along.
Their first show since October, this night would have been anticipated without the Philharmonic’s help–the as-yet-unreleased “Two Weeks” got the biggest applause of the night. They played five tracks off their upcoming album, Veckatimest–“Two Weeks” “Ready, Able,” “Dory,” “While You Wait For The Others” and “Foreground”–most them for the first time. But the clearest sign of a big deal: an usher told me she had to stop TEN different people from taking illicit, presumably internet-bound photos. This is why we can’t have nice things.–Christopher R. Weingarten