Grizzly Bear, Far Away and Up Close
I’ve been a Grizzly Bear fan for a long time now. I admire much about the band; near the top of the list is their use of space and distance. A song that sounds like it was recorded in a large church (probably because it was) suddenly gathers itself within whispering distance of your ear.
This sense of space and distance played out in a very different, very real way for me Friday night in Seattle. My tickets to see Grizzly Bear at the Moore Theatre read “General Admission,” leading me to believe I’d be on the floor, jostling for the perfect vantage point. To my surprise and dismay, we were directed to the second balcony. Not only did the band feel light years away, but we seemed to be looking directly down on them. It was unnerving and awkward. We tried to sneak our way onto the main floor, only to discover that the main floor comprised assigned seats. So, second balcony it would have to be.
This turned out to be just fine with my girlfriend; she’s 5’4” and welcomed the opportunity to actually see a show for once. And this one truly was meant to be seen: the visuals were stunning. Grizzly Bear’s work already feels omnidirectional, multi-dimensional; with the lights and stage design on this tour, the sensory impact is heightened. Music that always seemed too big to be restricted to ears now finds its way to your eyes. The effect was profound, sensory and emotional overload, particularly on “Fine For Now,” a song that has always hit me with particular resonance.
After the show we ducked into the bar across the street for a quick drink before heading home. When a man looking a lot like Chris Bear walked in, the celestial viewpoint of the second balcony abruptly tightened into a closeup.
And then Dan Rossen came in, and everything got weird. A man not in the band but seemingly with the band sat down on the sofa across from us and started guessing my name. This man was a Seattle photographer. I never did figure out his relationship with the band, and I fear that I wasn’t a good or present conversationalist. Seated to his left, after all, was Rossen, a man I count as a musical hero. Standing to my left, no more than three feet away, was Chris Bear, a man whose drumming (and style) are nonpareil. Elisabeth whispered something to me about his cool shirt. I agreed while trying not to have a panic attack.
Dan Rossen: the Bill Evans of pop music, all chord voicings and restraint and subtle genius. Humble man of dry humor and prodigious guitar skills and infinite imagination, gossamer melodies, circuitous and mysterious and wondrous. Something in his demeanor has always appealed to me; the man seems to exist in the exact middle point between amused and bemused. I don’t know what it is that makes us admire people and fancy them our kind, but I’ve always felt that way about Rossen. I suppose I felt like I should say something to him. He was close enough that I certainly could have. Such a predicament. What can the fan say? Great show? I’ve spent a million hours studying your music? Will you record another solo record? Can we talk about guitar tunings for a while? So I said nothing.
And then there’s Chris Bear. Years ago, two mixtapes surfaced online, allegedly curated by Bear. The first one, headlined by the song “The North Wind Blew South,” contained only one artist I’d heard of. You have no idea how intriguing that is. It was a reckoning, a challenge, an infinite deepening of the allure of Grizzly Bear. Of course they were better than the rest of us! They dress better, sing better, play better, write better, and, maybe most importantly, have better taste in music, as evidenced by these mixtapes. I still listen to them. They are my default music, like the perfect radio station from some better universe.
But in this universe, Rossen, Bear, and company disappeared as quickly as they had materialized. I felt hollow as I paid the check and ordered the Uber. To what amazing place had they gone?
Now it’s almost one week later. Yesterday I discovered that Rossen has an unreleased song on his website (good!) and pictures that offer a glimpse into his life, reminding me of my old home recording days.
And of course it doesn’t matter and never did, but I’m still wrestling with what to say.