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Review: Greg Phillips. Pics: Ian Laidlaw

The laconic Jens Lekman strolls onto the Melbourne Zoo stage unannounced, armed with his parlour-size acoustic guitar as his charming stories from Gothenburg to Melbourne begin to flow. His local 3 piece band, which is merely 3 days old join him soon after and add sympathetic piano rhythms, punchy bass and mellow violin. Telling the story behind I Know What Love Isn’t, Jens reveals that he’d considered a visa-extending, faux marriage while he was living in Melbourne but couldn’t go through with it because a) it was illegal to do so and b) he’d never be able to write about it! The Swede’s quirky brand of folk-pop is a fitting entree for the picnic-blanketed audience who are bathing in the last of the day’s perfect sunlight, eagerly awaiting their Brooklyn-based main act.

Grizzly Bear hit the stage and waste no time in kicking into epic sonic territory with the majestic Aquarian from their latest album ‘Painted Ruins’, a disc they’ll milk for much of the night. The song’s chilled outro, the perfect accompaniment for the tranquil surrounds, punctuated only by the occasional call of a wild beast in the distance. Losing All Sense, a song which precedes Aquarian in album track order, this time follows. Yet Again showcases the bands harmonies and songwriting strength.

A nondescript, ragged black curtain raised prior to the band’s set becomes a work of art once darkness falls and dramatic coloured lighting turn it into a cave-like panorama. Ed Droste’s vocal is hypnotic. The band’s collective harmonies are mesmerising. Brazen guitar chords add an edge to the alluring synth and piano sounds emanating from the stage, ensuring an impenetrable buffer between dark beauty and saccharine sweetness.

Droste mentions that he was wary of being booked to play a gig in a zoo, fearing it was a sign that their local following may have dropped a notch. However, he explains that the band is pleasantly surprised to discover such a wonderful, special venue and one of their largest Australian crowds to date.

If there’s a criticism to be had it would be that much of the band’s music seems to be constructed in similar keys, yet variation in tempo and vocal arrangements generally nullifies such foibles. It’s only when a couple of similarly sounding tracks are bookended that a period of flatness falls upon the set but hey, we all secretly wish for a bathroom or drinks break at a gig don’t we?

Another ‘Painted Ruins’ track, Mourning Sound motors along before Droste suggests that the view from the stage is so chilled, that he too wouldn’t mind being out there checking out a band on such a gorgeous night. He acknowledges support act Jens Lekman and the band fire up the familiar intro to Sleeping Ute from 2012’s ‘Shields’, followed by the pounding piano chords of Two Weeks, which ups the venue’s energy levels a rung or two.

A haunting extended version of the gentle Foreground from ‘Vecktimest’ captivates us all … well almost all … the infuriating chatter from a small group of selfish few who seem to be immersed in their own little social bubble, are ignorant of the usual gig-friendly etiquette which dictates that the music at a gig like this is to be heard and enjoyed by all. What can you say? Dickheads gonna be dickheads.

As the night progresses, intros and outros extend, merging into a singular bewitching soundtrack to an enchanting star-lit evening. Songs become symphonies. While You Wait For The Others ends the set proper with the audience singing along to the chorus they’re so acquainted with.

The band return with Shift, a track from way back in 2004. It’s not exactly high-energy, stimulating encore material but bleeds well into Sun In Your Eyes, which swirls and builds to a crescendo, ending the concert in as grand a fashion as it began. It’s a sign of a band who have moved on from merely delivering album tracks and now seek to craft a performance aimed at eliciting emotion.

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