Out of Seattle, Washington, Indie Rockers Minus the Bear have been creating music together for over fifteen years. Debuting back in 2001 with the This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic EP, since then, they have steadily grown their popularity with each passing release. Spending a generous amount of time on the road over the past few years, after a five year break, the band is back with their shiny new album VOIDS in 2017. Their sixth overall full-length, VOIDS is being celebrated on a full US Tour scheduled for 29-dates with support from Beach Slang and Bayonne.
Begun back on March 10th, the schedule finds Minus the Bear touring all the way through April 15th when they conclude the run at home in Seattle. Then amidst it all, on Tuesday, March 28th, fans gathered inside New York City’s Webster Hall to watch the five-piece perform a sampling of tracks from their vast discography and, of course, some new numbers from VOIDS.
A rain-drenched evening, unfortunately, the venue’s expansive Grand Ballroom was only about a quarter full when Bayonne materialized behind his cramped and complex set up of keys, drums, and devices. The small crowd that made the effort to show up early were compelled by the unique Bayonne. The Austin, Texas musician, also known as Roger Sellers, recently re-released his 2014 debut album, Primitives, back in March of 2016 under his stage name via Mom + Pop Records. In addition, back in January, he released the immensely catchy and atmospheric single, “Fallss,” a song be performed using several layerings of sounds created with loop pedals.
On stage, Bayonne was busy bouncing back and forth between his various instruments creating intricate, looping layers of ambient Electronic jams like “Spectrolite,” “Appeals,” and “Living Room.” Though his setup looks like that of a DJ, each sound was specifically created on stage rather than using dropped in samples of pre-made tracks. Watching Bayonne create his labyrinthine layers on stage was captivating. That said, his passion was quite apparent, and with that, he won the attention of the gathering crowd.
Next came the Punk Rock urgency and theatrics of Beach Slang. A rude awakening from the calming ambience set up by Bayonne, Beach Slang’s kick of energy was just what the audience needed. A quartet out of Philadelphia, PA, Beach Slang came together back in 2013 and currently are comprised of Drummer Cully Symington, Guitarist Aurore Ounjian, Bassist Ed McNulty, and Vocalist James Alex. Together, the exciting young band challenge the status quo of aesthetics versus sound.
Outwardly, Alex could easily be a member of a Britpop band, but anyone familiar with Beach Slang’s two LPs, 2015’s The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us and 2016’s A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, knows that the band thrives on raw emotion and hazy Indie Punk riffs. Excited to get their set going, Beach Slang radiated energy and mirth, relying as heavily on theatrics as they did on their own music. Kicking things off with ’90s sounding anthem “Noisy Heaven,” Beach Slang then rolled through tracks like “Wasted Daze of Youth,” before “American Girls and French Kisses,” from their 2014 EP Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street.
Moving forward, Beach Slang’s set was frenetic and attention-grabbing as they moved forward their fuzzy, fun cover of the Pixies hit “Where Is My Mind?” before Alex’s shouted the intro of New York Doll’s classic “Looking for a Kiss.” An energy some are not used to, there were many who appreciated Beach Slang’s theatrics and chattiness. Though, as Beach Slang finished their set with the hectic and heavy Punk jam “Atom Bomb,” the band’s high energy performance seemed to finally wake up the entire audience. A band that give hope to Punk, Beach Slang will remain on the road following their tour with Minus the Bear, picking up dates with Jimmy Eat World through May, so do not miss them.
Much to the joy of their eager fans, Minus the Bear finally took the stage at 10 PM. Since forming in 2001, the band has released six full-length albums, several EPs, and a collection of rare tracks and B-sides. Their most recent LP, released five years after 2012’s Infinity Overhead, and in the wake of the departure of founding member Erin Tate, reached 109 in the Billboard Top 200 and number 7 on the U.S. Independent Albums chart. Known for their unique blend of Progressive, Math, and Indie Rock, they were ready to bring it all to Webster Hall.
Vocalist/Guitarist Jake Snider, Guitarist Jake Knudson, Keyboardist Alex Rose, and Bassist Cory Murchy, collectively, Minus the Bear took the stage to cheers as they began their set with their catchy opening track from VOIDS, “Last Kiss.” Knudson’s signature method of two-handed guitar tapping was fascinating to watch. While the crowd bounced lightly and some sang along to “Last Kiss” and another new song “Give & Take,” the energy finally amped up once the band started into their older and more well-known tracks.
As the room filled with first few tapped notes and keys from “Knights,” a fast-tempoed track from 2007’s Planet of Ice, the crowd showed the most enthusiasm thus far. Knudson’s guitar playing during the song’s complex solo was flawless -he casually stepped up to the front of the stage and hovered over the crowd, feeding off their energy. Snider’s soft, dulcet vocals sound better than ever and give a new feeling to Minus the Bear’s well-loved older tracks like the understated “Into the Mirror,” from 2010’s OMNI, and one of their oldest, most beloved tracks, “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse,” from 2002’s Highly Refined Pirates.
Estatic to hear the older tunes, the audience happily sang along, as the band showed off the fifteen plus years of experience they have shared together. Sounding better than they ever have, both live and recorded, it was impossible not to be enthralled in the set. Though, despite the crowd’s obvious joy at hearing their favorite tracks, they were relatively stationary – each person in the crowd seemed to be having their own personal experience.
Sharing the spotlight, Rose got a chance to shine with another VOIDS track, “Call the Cops,” on which he is the main vocalist with Snider providing some backup. The crowd seemed much more still despite Rose’s great performance. Interestingly, he sounded eerily similar to Snider in many respects, but patrons instantly perked up when hearing the opening notes of Infinity Overhead’s heavy closer “Cold Company.” An exciting moment, the band took that energy into the grooving “My Time” and “Excuses,” both from OMNI. Deservingly, Rose was given another chance in the spotlight as he took the vocals during the new, high-energy track “Tame Beasts,” one of the best tracks off Voids, and this this time the audience seemed much more responsive.
Already covering so much ground, the guys in Minus the Bear began to wind down their set with another new cut, “What About the Boat?,” a subtly devastating song that puts the focus on Snider’s stellar and unique vocals. Following that was “The Game Needed Me,” the opening track of perhaps their most loved album, 2005’s Menos el Oso. Finally, the crowd seemed the most excited by the set’s final track, “Throwin’ Shapes,” with its complex melody and time changes.
Filing off stage to some enthusiastic cheering, the band soon returned to play the first single from VOIDS, “Invisible.” Thereafter, the bright “Pachuca Sunrise” was gifted to the audience with a beautiful melody as it highlighted each member’s impeccable musicianship. Chatting animatedly about the band’s performance, the large crowd slowly made their way down the too-small stairwell of Webster Hall, reflecting on a performance that will remain in the front of their mind for quite some time.
It was clear Minus the Bear was at the top of their game, and hopefully they will keep the good vibes following for years to come. Bringing along some interesting and seemingly mismatched supporting acts, it was all worthwhile to come out to New York City on a rainy Tuesday evening. While the tour wraps up soon, Minus the Bear will remain out in support of VOIDS with select dates in May before heading over to Europe in June. With VOIDS in hand, Minus the Bear seem even better than ever, and for that, their fans could not be any happier.
Photos by: Aintellin Photography