Final Fantasy and Grizzly Bear at Howard Gilman Opera House, 2/28/09
Last Saturday night, Brooklyn Academy of Musicâ€™s Howard Gilman Opera House played host to a very special lineup of performers, Final Fantasy and Grizzly Bear accompanied by the Brooklyn Philharmonic. This was not a rock show; it was, in Final Fantasyâ€™s words, an â€œexercise in trust.â€
Final Fantasy is the solo project of Owen Pallett, a multi-instrumentalist who has arranged strings for Arcade Fire, the Last Shadow Puppets, and Grizzly Bear. He took the stage, playing piano and Wurlitzer, just after eight and proceeded to launch into sweeping orchestral movements with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, in full, behind him. Pallett typically plays violin with a looping machine when he plays live; this symphonic arrangement allowed Pallettâ€™s talents as a composer, not simply a pop violin player, to shine. Final Fantasy would lead the orchestra into long movements, transitioning seamlessly between several songs without break.
On the whole, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, conducted by Michael Christie, sounded tight and well suited to Final Fantasyâ€™s music. His sound seemed to change more under their support than theirs did under his direction. The songs were grand and sweeping -- more complex and nuanced than anything on his studio albums.
Occasionally, however, it all seemed a little too grandiose. Too many flourishes, too much classical innocence. This all coupled with his trembling, choirboy voice left me longing for some break with the orchestra and a taste of his simpler voice-and-violin work. Still, the orchestra accompaniment was a beautiful display of Pallettâ€™s dynamism and skill as a composer and musician, one who walks the line between pop and classical music.
After a thankfully brief setup, Grizzly Bear, accompanied again by the orchestra, walked out on stage to waves of applause. The moment of silence after the audience settled down and the band began was tense, a glimpse of the tension and reserved excitement that would carry the entire set. The Brooklyn Philharmonicâ€™s strings, woodwinds, and horns swelled with the first notes of â€œEasier,â€ the first track on Grizzly Bearâ€™s second album, Yellow House. The band, remarking that they were going to play songs that no one has heard yet, played a mixture of new and old material.
Most of the set was clearly chosen with the asset of the orchestra in mind. â€œColorado,â€ a pacing, deeply layered soundscape, surged in emotion and power with the backing of the Philharmonic. They did not play their popular single â€œKnife,â€ nor the acoustic guitar-driven â€œOn a Neck, on a Spit.â€ But Grizzly Bear did step away from the orchestra to debut some songs from their upcoming release Veckatimest, due out May 26. From the moment that singer and guitarist Daniel Rossen played the introduction on the keyboard, â€œTwo Weeksâ€ sounded phenomenal. The four-part vocals were arresting. The other new songs held the audienceâ€™s rapt attention and provided an exciting preview for the upcoming album.
Nico Muhly, the classical composer who helped with the arrangements for this performance, is also arranging for Veckatimest. If this performance was any indication of whatâ€™s to come, then Grizzly Bear fans certainly have something to be excited about for the month of May. - Rian Rooney
Mr. Rooney is a student at Columbia University and has worked for the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, WBAR radio and Showpaper.