No wrong, no right.
So this almost did not happen due to some last minute family commitments. In the end, the highlight of this trip turned out to not be the reason I was there in the first place; rather, it was that a very sheltered me had finally become confident enough to move around in a foreign country all alone and by myself, though credit must certainly be given to Singapore’s planning authority with their ever-efficient signboards that had unerringly guided my way throughout my entire time there.
So yes, there goes another feather in the cap. Now, if only I could stop short at feeling that I could take on the world next…
Besides, who would have thought that Grizzly Bear and James Bond actually have something in common?
But to be honest, I think it did take quite a while for all of us – the band inclusive, maybe – to warm up. When Grizzly Bear first came onstage at the Esplanade Concert Hall, the crowd slowly rose and swayed in their feet to thumping opener “Speak in Rounds”, but the effect did not last very long as most ended up standing quite still and seemingly out of place during the one-minute instrumental “Adelma” that followed soon after. This probably continued until the fifth or sixth track for the night, when the rousing “Yet Again” came on and people finally started behaving like they were at an actual concert again; this was also when the lighting effects began to pick up on their intensity and feature more prominently in their set, almost blinding us in the process (for otherwise, the band played mostly in the dark under spotlights made up of shades of blue and violet – alas, such is the mostly subdued nature of their music).
The setlist that night was primarily heavy on their latest album Shields, and occasionally Veckatimest – and rightly so, as material from the band’s older albums had failed to sufficiently rouse up the crowd. Ironically, I thought the musical arrangements for the older songs were much more intricate than that of their more recent releases – older gems like “Knife”, “Lullabye” and “Shift” seemed to sound more uplifting than their dreary album counterparts, having been given a modern lease of life. But it was the little additional tweaks on “Gun-shy” and its flawless transition to “Ready, Able” that served as one of the highlights of the night for me.
The sound system did not seem fantastic at the beginning – frontman Ed Droste’s vocals was at times drowning out the music, and the intentional echoes employed and his many thank-yous in Mandarin (“Xie-xie!”) made me giggle (an unfortunate reaction), but this and a few other technical glitches were thankfully ironed out as the evening progressed.
Stage banter was limited, as Droste himself admitted, though we were treated to some spontaneous R&B jamming courtesy of guitarist-keyboardist Daniel Rossen (“We have just three more songs to play, and one of them is 15 minutes long…”) and drummer Chris Bear to fill up those awkward silences that punctured the air whenever they switched instruments in between songs. “We’ve travelled so much that we now have more stamps on our passports than James Bond, but… nah, that’s probably not true since he’s a secret agent and all that,” multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor quipped.
I think this is as close as it gets to watching a band play mood-setting ambient music in a concert hall for a little over 90 minutes; while it was overall still an amazing experience, sadly, it left me feeling somewhat shortchanged by the end of it all. Granted, Grizzly Bear’s music is not quite something that you can sing along to easily: I cannot remember the lyrics myself to do a decent sing-along, and had mentally lost track of the setlist halfway through, but personally, I still believe that a better live rendition of “Cheerleader” would have made this one perfect night to remember. Perhaps next time.