Monday, April 26, 2010

The Finest of Indie Today

This October, I attended one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever witnessed. It was at the Moore Theater in Seattle, and it featured Grizzly Bear. It was one of those, “I saw the future of rock and roll and its name is (blank)” moments like critic Jon Landau had after a Bruce Springsteen concert nearly thirty years ago. From the moment the Brooklyn quartet kicked off its set with “Southern Point”, the opening track on their recent album, Veckatimest, I was mesmerized. Even after spending hours listening to their two most recent albums, hearing new live arrangements of the group’s unique brand of neo-psychedellia was like discovering the songs all over again. Breathtaking, exhilarating, jaw-dropping, any word that could describe the sight of the most perfect sunrise over the most majestic mountain range.

But that hour and a half of ecstasy wasn’t even all that was great about that evening. Opening for Grizzly Bear was The Morning Benders, a band from Berkeley, California whose four members look like they may still be in high school. Despite their young appearance, the group’s music is mature beyond their years, filled with three part harmonies and reverberant guitars that seem to draw on classic and modern influences such as the Beach Boys and My Morning Jacket. Having hardly heard of the group and not expecting much from an opener, this was a more than pleasant surprise to begin the evening.

This isn’t about one concert experience however; this is about a lineage that started at the top. The greatest band of our generation is Radiohead. Many may disagree with that statement; that’s fine. Just one columnist’s opinion that is very unlikely to change. Grizzly Bear opened for that royal five headed genius machine in the summer of 2008, with prodigious Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood taking a rare turn at the mic between songs to dub Grizzly Bear as his favorite band, stunning the New Yorkers, as they themselves are heavily influenced by Radiohead. As Grizzly Bear’s fame grew, the band chose two disciples of their own to tour with them at different times: the aforementioned Morning Benders and Beach House.

Beach House consists of Baltimore duo Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, and while I am yet to see them live (a Seattle concert in April sold out before I could purchase tickets), their recorded sound just melts away at your soul. Instead of the echoing guitars of The Morning Benders, Beach House is driven by intimate organs, synthesizers and lush vocals courtesy of the French chanteuse Legrand, whose deep alto is reminiscent of the late Nico. While The Morning Benders songs are soaked in bouncy youthful buoyancy, Beach House’ music is dense and flowing, as if the soundtrack to a dream.

Four of the best albums of the last several years are related by a common thread of having shared a concert stage. In Rainbows by Radiohead, Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear, Teen Dream by Beach House and Big Echo by The Morning Benders are all proof that rock music is as artful now as it ever has been, with no signs of slowing down. I can only wait patiently for the next descendant to be discovered.

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