Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bearing up

Grizzly Bear/Rio en Medio/Her Name Is Calla, Leicester Sumo, 16th May

In its own little enclave next to a giant sports discount warehouse, I've managed to walk past the Sumo bar twice in the past before realising what it was. Inside is a bijou 200 capacity (apparently - I can see how 150 would get in but then you'd have no air) basement with decent sound and a seating area right in front of the mixing desk. There were clearly a lot of out of towners there for what has to be called a surprising booking given the size.

Locals Her Name Is Calla are reduced to a trio tonight, the electronic quarter apparently in Croatia, so we lose some but by no means all of the full effect of their Radiohead-meet-iLiKETRAiNS controlled brooding. Four songs in the set, the drums not entering less than three minutes into any of them, and much promise. Rio en Medio, the band name project of New Mexico-born, Brooklyn based Danielle Stech-Homsy, has associated with Devendra Banhart, Patrick Wolf and CocoRosie, and it shows. Switching between bass ukelele and a table covered in electronics of varying uses, Stech-Homsy carves out enchanted atmospherics over which she sings in a style not far removed from Joanna Newsom or Vashti Bunyan. The ghostly otherworldliness sets her apart, but technical problems mean her set never takes off, and indeed grinds to a halt when her backing CD starts sticking during a cover of, of all things, Stayin' Alive, followed by most of her equipment going down. She just about rescues the situation by singing the last two songs acapella. They're in Russian and Spanish, naturally.

Grizzly Bear's superb album of last year Yellow House had its basis in manipulated sounds, atmospherics and electronics, built on subtle sonic touches and juxtapositions allied to stripped back, very American indie harmonic songwriting. How will they transfer it to the live setting? Superbly, it turns out. Much of that is due to Chris Taylor, nominally their bass player and apparently still recovering from an electric shock during the soundcheck but spending the first three songs down on one knee operating an array of effects pedals, circuit boards, loops, processors and assorted gadgetry while playing flute, recorder and clarinet (normal and bass) into their attached mikes. Easier and Lullabye are, if not totally transformed, then certainly put into three dimensional magnitude as all four members - Taylor, guitarist Dan Rossen taking on most of the lead vocals, nominal leader Ed Droste (whose idea of banter is "we went to the Shires earlier") on guitar, autoharp and harmonies and Chris Bear behind the drums in the back corner - harmonise and play off each other. It's much less dusty and pastoral than the recorded work, more texturally claustrophobic. Knife is a triumph, like Animal Collective finally achieving their freak-Beach Boys aims, while Colorado was almost completely transformed from its slightly meandering album version into something properly coruscating.

And, erm, this is where I had to leave it. Even though the advertised door time was 8pm the venue didn't open until 9.15pm, and having ordered a taxi for 11.30pm this proved a problem. I kept them ten minutes and then found a proper fleet of cabs waiting, suggesting many had made the same calculation. So not the full set, but what an experience while it lasted.


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