It’s really like night and day, to be completely honest,” says chief Grizzly Bear Ed Droste, big sad dark eyes looking a little bewildered as he takes it all in in the hotel bar. It’s Thursday, so this must be Norway: beginning their European festival dates at Oslo’s small-but-perfectly-formed Øya Festival, to precede a tour that will see them play to bigger audiences than ever before, the band have just flown in from Osaka and are Sweden-bound straight after their show.
Though the growth of their profile in the US has been steady, on this continent Grizzly Bear have suddenly clawed their way blinking from the comfy cave of Pitchfork-reader niche into the big league with the release of third album ‘Veckatimest’; and they’re still adjusting.
“Both KOKO and the Barbican shows in London have sold out in, like, five days, and we’re, like, ‘But, England doesn’t care… right?’,” laughs Ed. “I remember playing in a small room in Leicester and there were, like, 25 people and the fire alarm kept going off and we were like, ‘Why are we doing this?! The hotel cost more than the £50 we’re getting to do this show’. So I’m really excited to
come back with an entirely new fanbase.”
Surprising as Grizzly’s sudden introduction into the European wilds has been, though, there’s nothing like meeting a real global megastar to put indie levels of fame into perspective: while playing at Summer Sonic festival in Tokyo a few days previously, it transpired that Beyoncé Knowles’ sister is a huge fan and demanded a meeting with the boys. And guess who tagged along too…
“It was just the most surreal thing, because I’m a huge fan,” enthuses Ed. “She was super down-to-earth, really funny… It boggles your mind, because you’re just like, ‘You could go to any country in the world and people will know who you are’. Personally, I would never want that, but it’s really interesting to meet someone who has it and watch how they deal with it. It was, like, us sitting there and these three bodyguards with their clubs…”
They may not yet need Beyoncé’s hired muscle to keep the global unwashed at bay, but there’s certainly more than a few Norwegians down the front at Øya who know exactly who Droste, Daniel Rossen, Christopher Bear and Chris Taylor are. And yet Grizzly Bear, as Droste admits, are an unlikely festival band: “We’re not four-to-the-floor, we’re not a party band like CSS. There are some bands who are made for festivals, because it’s just all about getting pumped. But you know what, you have to own what you are.”
And this unassuming four-piece’s quiet, firm command of their subtly bewitching sounds ensnares the attention in its own way. In fading evening light, beneath trees bedecked with silver and red foil stars, the ringing, reverberating tension-and-release of album opener ‘Southern Point’ has charms to soothe the most savage crowd, and the Bear cubs rammed saucer-eyed up to the tiny stage are immediately entranced. The soft, Deerhunter-ish spook-psych-folk of ‘Cheerleader’, with its Wilsons-in-purgatory harmonies, deepens the trance, Droste’s sonorous voice flooding out into the mild autumn air.
Older tracks from second album ‘Yellow House’, like the gorgeous, yet unsettling ‘Lullabye’, are greeted as warmly as the ‘Veckatimest’ material that makes up the bulk of the set. ‘Knife’’s bittersweet doo-wop psych finds small blonde girls hysterically shrieking and bouncing: there’s no beard-stroking here. Victoria Legrand of Beach House joins Droste onstage to sing on the jaunty, spectral sunshine-pop of ‘Two Weeks’, the audience visibly swooning a little as Ed pleads, “Would you always? Maybe sometimes?”. As they close with the divine ‘While You Wait For
The Others’, Daniel Rossen’s tremulous Paul Simon-ish tones cutting through a rich torrent of sound, all four voices mingling in radiant harmony, it’s clear the Grizzly Bear, though not a native species, has northern Europe firmly in the grip of its furry paw.