Koko is a lovely venue. Opened originally in 1900, the spirit of old-style music hall is alive and well with the ornate balconies and the rich red paint; the new bar at the back works wonderfully with the period detail. The bar staff are friendly, the loos aren’t completely horrific, and there’s one of the best Japanese restaurants in London on its doorstep.
But whoever writes the bumpf on their website needs shooting. “Grizzly Bear have gone massive really quickly, the jury is out as to whether they are merely Animal Collective copyists or are ploughing their own field” I could just see them writing in the 60’s: “the jury is out as to whether The Rolling Stones are merely The Beatles copyists or are ploughing their own field”. And “gone massive really quickly”? Sure, no-one noticed them back in 2006 when they released what was widely regarded as one of the best albums of the year1. As the current vernacular states, seriously, dude, wtf?
Ranting aside, there is something about Grizzly Bear’s meticulously constructed Beach Boys chamber-noise pop stylings that really suits the venue. The sound really helps; pretty much clear as a bell all night, even during the furious wig-out at the end of “I Live With You” and “Fine For Now”. That latter song was one of the highlights of the night – on the album it’s maybe too constrained, too mannered, but live it bursts into life. Daniel Rossen’s guitar onslaught was beautifully controlled, just the right side of outright noise.
“Ready, Able”, with its baroque stylings, was a perfect example of what makes Grizzly Bear so great, and yet so discombobulating. Starting off with edgy drum rhythms and Daniel Rossen’s discordant guitar stabs, it suddenly switches to a beautiful Cocteau Twins-esque chamber-pop section, before changing yet again to reach ever more gorgeous heights. On record it’s beautiful enough, seeing the transformation happen live is almost transcendant.
And I wasn’t prepared for quite how much was involved in making their songs. Chris Taylor played bass, some kind of glockenspiel thing, a flute, a bass saxophone, and possibly a clarinet (my view was somewhat obstructed). During “Lullabye”, drummer Christopher Bear seemed to do some mucking about with an electric drum pad that involved a bass so heavy it made my trousers shake in a way they haven’t done since the Notting Hill Carnival in 2004. As for the singing; any of these guys could happily be the lead singer in any band you care to mention. Their harmonies put the likes of Fleet Foxes to shame. Chris Taylor’s heavily altered singing during “Knife” was stunning.
This lot are seriously talented. I have a recurring image of them in lab coats, cackling like mad scientists, whilst they write songs. There’s some very odd things going on musically, such as the odd guitar tunings to create lots of diminished sevenths and the like (ok, I don’t know, I’m making it up – if you know, feel free to comment!). I have no idea what tunings Daniel uses, but whatever he’s doing he’s obviously not doing it to make his fretting any simpler.
Sadly, there was no “Marla” (the creepiest song since Smog’s “I Was A Stranger”) or “Deep Blue Sea”, but you can’t ask for everything. The night ended with their cover of “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)”, another song that works far better live than on record. A quick rushed goodbye, and they were gone. I can’t wait for the Barbican show, with a full orchestra and everything. If it’s half as good as the Koko gig, we’re all in for a treat.
One last thing. What is it with London gigs and people talking? Seriously, can people not shut up for 90 minutes? You’re not at home watching it on TV, you are surrounded by people who have waited months to see a band live, and they did not pay good money to hear you shout at your friend. Seriously, shut it. Funnily enough, after the gig, in the lift at Mornington Crescent tube, someone went “SHHH!” to everyone talking. At least it’s not just me.
On the way home, we saw this:
As one friend said, “That advert is a hundred times better than the actual place”.
1 As previously noted, I did of course miss them. Look, I was tired, ok?