It was only my second trip to see a show at Bexhill's De La Warr Pavilion, a gorgeous art-deco theatre a few miles down the coast, so the trip still had that air of novelty and adventure about it as four of us piled into a small car and hit the road. Since I've found myself regularly reviewing albums for Brightonsfinest I have begun to find that the day I submit my write-up often marks the end of my relationship with that album too. That's been far from the case with Painted Ruins, Grizzly Bear's latest offering. If anything, I've found my appreciation for the record has grown over the last few months and it's starting to look like one of my albums of the year.
The sight that greeted my eyes as I entered the auditorium to check out support band Liima came as a bit of a shock then. I was expecting a sell-out, or at least near-capacity show, but the crowd seemed quite sparse for this Danish/Finnish synth-pop outfit. The 4AD signing, who are about to release their second album in two years, performed a solid set which, while certainly including sounds that were sympathetic to the Grizzly Bear oeuvre, didn't quite land for me. The strongest of the bunch was set closer '1982' from their forthcoming album of the same name. Perhaps this was just the wrong context for me to stumble upon the band, I can't say I disliked anything they were doing but, at the same time, none of it grabbed me. I can imagine their music performing well in the sync world: helping to set up atmosphere for film and television dramas.
After a short break Grizzly Bear shuffled out onto the stage, dressed casually beneath an impressive cave-like set. The crowd had swelled somewhat, dispelling some of my earlier anxiety that these giants of indie-rock have not reached the audience they deserve with this, their fifth album. They started proceedings solidly with three tracks from the new record, including one of my major favourites, 'Losing All Sense', which is a song that really thrives in the live environment. Soon Ed Droste's curiosity about the crowd was revealed as he admitted they would have booked a Brighton show, if a suitable venue had been available. It's a common curse Brighton faces: a lack of venues the size and spec of Concorde 2 or The Haunt. Ideally, in fact, we could do with a place that's a little larger than those. Tonight it was Grizzly Bear who suffered, a little. Word about this show had not sufficiently reached the larger centres of Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, and sleepy Bexhill didn't quite have a thousand Grizzly fans to fill the room to the rafters. However, the enthusiastic crowd did a great job of sounding like they had. When charming Ed asked (in what seemed like a truly genuine query for once) if the crowd were having a good time, the uproarious response left no doubts.
This was coming off the back of a slight vocal misstep at the end of an otherwise immaculate 'Ready, Able', which seemed to leave the band a little shaken, to my overly analytical eyes. It seemed to me like they took a little while to really hit their stride tonight, but when they did they were transcendent, with 'Foreground' from Veckatimest, being my surprise highlight of the night. I got goosebumps, and from there they kept coming for the mellow cuts, like 'Shift' and 'Sun In Your Eyes'. An absolutely perfect moment was their rendition of 'Knife', which showcases bassist Christ Taylor's beautiful, breathy falsetto, albeit performed through a tonne of effects including tremolo, which seems an odd choice for a vocal sound. It's an otherworldly tone that really adds to the magic. For me the musicality of the band shone through any technical difficulties they had early on and consistently those more obscure album tracks were delivered with majesty while the better known 'hits' like 'Two Weeks' fell a touch short of my high expectations. Having said that, with Daniel Rossen's immaculate guitar and vocal in the driving seat, 'While You Wait For The Others' was never going to be anything but a highlight.
I was surprised that songs from the new album didn't seem to form more of a centre-piece to the set, but then again this show was structured not too dissimilarly to their old tour-mates Radiohead over the last year or so: front-loading with the new album and following with a smorgasbord of back-catalogue treats. It is sensible as you grow more popular as a band to make sure you're representing your best known works, to please those parts of the audience. If anything I'm just disappointed that some more of the new album hasn't yet reached this crowd-pleasing status. I would have like to have heard Chris Taylor have a stab at 'Systole', for example, having realised tonight that it must be him singing that on the album. I also do not remember hearing them play 'Glass Hillside', which is weird, because it's one of the best on the new album and seems to have been played for much of the rest of the tour – is it possible it just flew over my head? Putting my little niggles and quibbles aside I have to say this was a really fantastic show, that above all sounded superb – hats off to the engineer and sound-system. Grizzly Bear continue to astound: a unique group of genius musicians, with beautiful voices and a disarming self-effacing presence.