On Sunday night, I had the privilege of attending a good old-fashioned indie-rock show. The snow was falling, and since it’s still early in the season, I appreciated its beauty instead of cursing its inability to go the hell away. Because Grizzly Bear are on the softer side of the indie spectrum, they were the perfect band to share a pensive winter evening with. Even though serpentwithfeet wasn’t indie-rock in the slightest, his intimate and very personal tunes certainly gelled with the mood of the concert. In fact, Sunday was the coziest I’ve ever felt at a music venue. Sure, we were all packed to the brim, but there wasn’t the usual feeling of discomfort. Everyone had their eyes blissfully glued to the stage. I credit this to each act’s sweetly vulnerable performances and ability to resonate with their audience.
I don’t think I was quite prepared for the extremely eccentric serpentwithfeet. The first things I noticed were his shaggy beard and bright red pants. After a while, it became apparent that he was also wearing a comically small backpack. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a stylistic choice that had passed me by, but as his set wore on it became apparent that he is just a charmingly playful person. His music and staging were abrasively sparse, which really forced us to pay attention. It was just his soulful voice, his deeply personal lyrics, and his piano or backing track. I admire his bravery, as his tunes weren’t exactly straightforward melodies, but almost one-man monologues. His words rattled out of his mouth like he was aiming a machine gun at himself and his personal demons. He was emotionally and musically naked on that stage! He sang of embracing grief, and I know I felt like it was okay to do so along with him.
As much as I enjoyed Grizzly Bear’s performance, they just didn’t reach me the same way serpentwithfeet did. Thankfully, they have a secret weapon that, besides Fleet Foxes, many of their contemporaries don’t possess. Of course, I’m referring to their drop-dead gorgeous harmonies. I still remember the first time I heard their hit song “Two Weeks” and how it became one of my all-time favourites. Those “Ah”s are some of the best I have ever heard, and are in the same realm as anything The Beach Boys ever did. Hearing them in a live setting was almost too much to bear. I actually got a bit teary eyed. What else can you do when presented with the choral sounds of pure love?
Musically I admired everything about their show. Besides “Two Weeks” and “Try Again”, I really didn’t know any of their songs, so it was eye-opening to discover that “Two Weeks” doesn’t represent everything they do. There are certainly shades of post-punk in their newer material, which made up a large portion of their set, but they made sure to never stray too far from their warm and approachable indie pop style. For every song like “Mourning Sound,” they would counteract with something like “On a Neck, On a Spit.” Thank God too, because I would be so pissed if they were to get rid of those gorgeous harmonies altogether. That would like if Brian Wilson had decided not to release Pet Sounds!
Despite their virtuosity as musicians, I was not impressed with them as stage performers. That might be a controversial statement, and I understand that their music isn’t exactly high voltage stuff, but you can still be engaging while being super mellow. I kind of felt like I was just watching a really professional rehearsal, while the impressive lighting picked up the slack. Lead vocalists Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen barely conversed with the crowd, and the whole band hardly even moved. Like we get it, your music is beautiful and resonates with people, but it should appear that you at least like playing on a stage. As a result, I actually found myself kind of bored at times, which for me rarely ever happens at a concert.
This is not to say that I didn’t have a pleasant time, because I did. The whole evening felt like receiving a warm hug. I was in a cranky mood, for personal reasons, but when I witnessed serpentwithfeet’s courage and Grizzly Bear’s majesty, the ice swiftly melted. If the winter blues have got you down, I highly recommend having one of these artists as your company. They might inspire you to want to open up and express yourself too, and if that isn’t your scene, you can easily just bask in how pretty their music is.
Written by Shawn Thicke
Photography by Eric Brisson Photography
*edited Kate Erickson