The industrially chic and technologically savvy venue The Anthem was an appropriate location for the bearded, beanie-wearing crowd that came to see the indie-rock group Grizzly Bear on Nov. 8. The Anthem is located on the District Wharf, a development along the Potomac that opened on Oct. 12 and features restaurants, apartment complexes, and stores. The Anthem is a part of the I.M.P. group that owns the popular 9:30 Club, as well as the Lincoln Theatre and Merriweather Post Pavilion. It has been designed to be the most versatile of these concert spaces, with a standing capacity of 6,000, a slidable lighting track that can be adjusted to accommodate each performance, and a removable stage for arena tours.
Inside the venue, a row of stage lights are diamond-shaped to mirror the borderlines of the District. The lobby features Untitled Polyrhythm, a commissioned art installation by Dan Steinhilber consisting of Sabian cymbals that dangle by twinkling, lighted cords from the ceiling. The ceiling is actually the bottom of a swimming pool located on the top floor of the Anthem. For the venue’s debut, which featured a concert by the Foo Fighters, “mermaids” were hired to swim the length of the pool.
The Anthem was a comfortable fit for Grizzly Bear and their indie fans. The group, which was formed in the mid-2000s, recently released Painted Ruins. On Painted Ruins, their signature dreamy harmonies and layered instrumentals are fully realized, moving them away from rock to a Beach Boys-style pop that melds electronic, folk, and jazz influences. Edward Droste, the lead vocalist, was a political advocate for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and the sense of despair tinged with optimism on the album is perhaps a response to the current political climate.
The opening act was Serpentwithfeet, the project name for artist Josiah White, who fuses R&B and electronic with vocals that are reminiscent of Frank Ocean. His act was playful but introspective, with songs that touched on having honest conversations with significant others and maintaining a humorous attitude as an adult. The audience was responsive to the commentary he gave while dancing around the stage with a stuffed leopard doll slung over his shoulder, especially when he discussed disrupting gender roles, mentioning Michelle Obama’s counsel to let boys be sensitive. Serpentwithfeet was an interesting and entertaining warm-up act choice for Grizzly Bear. Perhaps the decision was meant to highlight Grizzly Bear’s own increased sense of playfulness, which is apparent in the quirky music videos for their singles, “Neighbors” and “Mourning Sound,” from Painted Ruins – the latter of which features naked male bums being played like drums.
The intimate crowd, clearly long-time Grizzly Bear fans, remained engaged throughout the set, swaying to their sweeping vocals and shouting for an encore at the end. Although Grizzly Bear’s latest album is less rock influenced than their earlier records, the loud beats, flashing, multi-colored lights, and fog hazing the stage highlighted their indie rock roots, even as gauze-like curtains draped either side of the set to add a mellow lens to the scene. The band’s ability to meld various genres in their songs was also demonstrated by their bassist, Chris Taylor, who, besides playing his main instrument and singing backup, alternated between a flute, a soprano and an alto saxophone. The keyboardist brought out a trumpet at one point. All members whistled in sync – not an easy feat – for their encore song. This multi-tasking was not always pulled off smoothly due to some microphone and sound malfunctions, but the humor with which the band played on was a credit to their comfort on stage. “It’s called: you’re not getting the exact album, you’re getting weird things that happen,” Droste said. As they say, the weirder the better.