The “back room” at BSP in Kingston is something of an attraction in itself, regardless of who might be playing in it. A short hallway and a padlocked double door away from the 200-capacity front-room club, the back room is a huge, long-abandoned and gradually restored theater that could probably hold 1,500 people if the club wanted to go that way and compete with Bardavon and UPAC. It is also where the traveling San Severia Spiegeltent has landed, like a spaceship from the past, seemingly with intent to settle down. Surreal, carnivalesque and spooky, San Severia is barely an echo of Bard’s more famous Spiegeltent in terms of size, style and overall build solidity, but it sure makes for a great and otherworldly bar for the marquee backroom shows.
BSP wisely locates the back-room stage in just about the middle of the huge space, limiting capacity to 700 or so, providing artists with a terrifyingly large and dark backstage area to worry about and greatly easing the burden on the sound system. This gives BSP and its booking wing, Output Agency, not one but two well-defined booking levels at which to operate, with a next level in the bank if they ever want to invoke it. A staggering “get,” like the recently announced November performance by art-rock legends Père Ubu, is front-room material. It’ll sell out, but by enough to warrant a back-room gambit. Brooklyn art-rock celebrities Grizzly Bear, on the other hand, are not only back-room material, but also material enough for two nights of it: August 15 and 16, to be precise.
Another wide-appeal ambassador of Brooklyn millennial (sm)art-rock, the National just situated some release shows at the relatively intimate upstate setting of Basilica Hudson (intimate only by comparison to the rooms they might have chosen for such an important occasion), and Grizzly Bear seems to be thinking along the same lines. Painted Ruins, the band’s well-considered follow-up to 2012’s Shields, comes out on August 18. Shields was a big deal, sniffing an echelon of Billboard where guitar bands – especially arty guitar bands from the coasts – are almost complete strangers.
Grizzly Bear was briefly huge and then just very big. While borough-mates like Dirty Projectors and St. Vincent might have been more strenuously musical and challenging, perfecting an aesthetic of intentional awkwardness (DP) and musical-theater-grade melodic chops shattered with a fine, surgical violence (St. V), it is not hard to understand why Grizzly Bear and the National enjoyed a wider acceptance: softer corners and easier angles of entry for kids who wanted something cool, but not that cool. The National have always sounded to me like Coldplay fronted by a huskier Gertrude Stein, and GB like courteous and caring bedroom experimentalists whose experiments never quite efface a shy sweetness.
In any case, they are back! Radio Woodstock and BSP Kingston present Grizzly Bear at BSP’s historic back-room theater on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 15 and 16, both shows at 8:30 p.m. Delicate Steve opens. Tickets cost $40 in advance and $48 at the door. For more information and your path to tickets, visit www.bspkingston.com. BSP is located at 323 Wall Street in Kingston.