Words & Images by: Annelise Poda
Minus the Bear w/ The Velvet Teen :: 11.04.11 :: Slim’s :: San Francisco, CA
Experimental rock band Minus the Bear helped welcome the fall weather to San Francisco with two November weekend shows at Slim’s. The Friday show sold out, and the venue was packed with anxious fans that were excited to hear Minus the Bear’s complex and note-flooded songs. 2011 marks the band’s ten-year anniversary, and they are celebrating their decade of innovative songwriting with a tour in tribute to their first album, Highly Refined Pirates. This LP holds a special place in the hearts of many fans, as it was the first time people were exposed to Minus the Bear’s fresh sound, which combined clear toned guitar taps, comforting vocals, and intricate rhythms. The spirited energy levels of both the audience and the musicians were elevated for this special birthday celebration show.
The Velvet Teen opened up the night with a really solid set, and their love for their music shone through in a vigorous and passionate performance. Lead singer Judah Nagler intensely belted out heartfelt lyrics, even though he was struggling with a self-described “throat problem” that was making it difficult for him to hit higher notes. He appeared to be drinking tea that he hinted might also contain whiskey, which sounded like the perfect remedy for an indie rocker sore throat. Far off on the left, guitarist and auxiliary percussionist Matthew Izen crazily rocked out on his instruments. It was apparent from the get-go why his gear was set up so far from everyone else’s, as this guy played with his whole body, convulsing to every resounding guitar strum and stamping around with a tambourine in a primal war dance. Izen’s stage presence reminded me of the SNL skit about the Blue Oyster Cult recording session where Christopher Walken encouraged Will Ferrell to “really explore the studio space” with his cowbell to get a more authentic sound. Izen definitely does just that.
|The Velvet Teen by Annelise Poda|
The Velvet Teen’s set was made up of very diverse songs, which kept it really interesting to listen to the whole way through. Loud and fast compositions saturated with spastic drum fills were followed by a melodic piano ballad or a tune with electronic elements and rhythmic grooves for good measure. It was really refreshing to hear a group that is unafraid to foster some variety in their music.
After the intermission, Minus the Bear jumped right into their set. Bright stage lights saturated the room with alternating blue and red flashes coordinated to their music. The audience was excited for every single song from Highly Refined Pirates, and they sang their lungs out to “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” and swayed back and forth to the crystal clear opening chords of “Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo”. In case you’re not familiar with the band’s recordings, all of their songs have excellent titles. The musicians’ technical skills stunned the audience in “I Lost All My Money at the Cock Fights”, as everyone onstage was totally locked into the complicated rhythms and built up some serious musical power in an extended instrumental mash.
|Minus the Bear by Annelise Poda|
Dave Knudson was really the stand out player of this show. His million-note tapped out guitar parts fit perfectly into the flow of the constantly morphing songs. Clear-toned melodies constantly radiated from his guitar as he paced all over the stage to get the entire audience hyped up. Other band members added their own signature sounds to the music, and the building chaos came together to create beautiful, deep collaborations. Drawn out synthesizer notes from Alex Rose gave depth and fullness to the songs, and Jake Snider’s warm vocals added the final ingredient to complete the recipe for the vivid sound that is unique to Minus the Bear.
The Velvet Teen came back out to finish out the night in a fun-spirited nine-person jam. Matthew Izen pushed his head into Knudson as they laughed together in a grinding guitar duel. The crowd shouted their unanimous approval at the end, and started up the “one more song!” chant before the band had even completely left the stage. Minus the Bear returned for an encore of more recently recorded songs, and it was interesting to hear how their sound has evolved since Pirates. They’ve added more electronic elements for a stronger dance feel, but there is no mistaking the original frenzied, emotional Minus the Bear feel that made fans fall in love with them from the beginning. The band has put together a great tribute show for the first work that started them off as a legitimate band ten years ago, and this is the perfect tour to catch if you want to hear some classic Minus the Bear songs and help celebrate their 10 years on the scene.
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