The Grizzlies enjoy early gigs like the one they're getting set to play at the High Noon Saloon. For most young bands, six o'clock on a Tuesday evening is reserved for sleeping off the weekend or noshing in preparation for a late night. But assorted Grizzlies got their fill of the nightlife in old bands like Charlemagne and the Shivers. Putting on their contagious Guided By Voices-meets-Ryan Adams repertoire well before the sun sets isn't a hardship. "Happy-hour shows at the High Noon are fantastic," drummer Alex Fulton says brightly. "We love them."
"Your folks can come," adds ever-smiling singer/guitarist Matt Joyce. "Mine will be here shortly."
If that sound like a rather easygoing, familial take on the business of music-making, well, it is. An unabashed townie act whose four members have real jobs and lives outside rock 'n' roll, the Grizzlies are realistic about their music. Listening to Joyce's canny, slightly countrified Beach Boys update "Girls of Summer II" off the band's new self-titled CD, it's easy to envision effusive blog entries and website reviews of the guitar-centric four-piece.
But Fulton, who toured with Carl Johns' Charlemagne and has experienced firsthand what it means to be in a band that's garnered "buzz," says working up good songs with good musical friends is reward enough right now. "I don't think the band has lofty goals in terms of doing any extensive touring or 'making it.'"
At the High Noon, Joyce hooks the 50 or so fans and friends with his peppy, to-the-point pop material. When he moves to bass, co-songwriter Justin Aten takes over with a handful of country-rock tunes that could get over in most any heartland tavern. Occasionally the year-old band's new rhythm guitarist, Erika Zar, appears unsure of a chord change, but even the more ramshackle tunes have an appealing energy about them. The Grizzlies don't come off as eardrum busters, but some of the songs recall the low-fi bluster of Joyce and Fulton's earlier band, the Shivers. Plus, Joyce plays around with irony just enough so that his more Americana-shaded material doesn't come off as twangy nostalgia.
To be honest, the current live show doesn't quite match the carefree performances on the Grizzlies' debut recording. For one thing, Fulton's brother, Will, left the band to concentrate on other things before going into the Army in December, and his guitar work clearly made a difference in the studio. Just as important, the CD was recorded shortly after the Grizzlies came together, and the excitement of a band just finding its footing is palpable.
Some bands might have gussied up Joyce's boyish vocals on the breathless popper "65 Miles" or punched up the sketchbook-quality rhythm track of the slow-then-fast mash note "Ice Cream." But that surely would have taken away some of the album's freshness.