Right at the beginning of the new millennium, sudden bursts of musical creativity formed a genre-bending confluence as post-rock, alternative, and indie rock collided together, and a wave of bands sprung forth, each carving out its own unique path as the new century was brightly birthed. New terms such as “post-hardcore”, a modern definition of “emo”, and even heavier concoctions such as “metalcore” came clawing their way into existence, each with a collection of bands that took these sounds and made them their own. In the few short years that we transitioned into a new century, groups rose and fell, and new beings were born from their ashes. Ten years later, two of these acts found themselves on the road together, and fans that had their music playing on CD-changer stereos and the first waves of MP3 players flocked to catch their heroes continuing their journey, ten years later: the Omaha indie quartet known as Cursive, and the groovy, funkily-experimental Seattle five-piece called Minus The Bear.
Not all members of the nearly-1000-person-strong crowd had come to see both acts perform; with such diverse beginnings, and an even wider-spreading path as they continued their careers, decent chunks of the audience arrived for each of the main acts. A small contingent, however, had specifically arrived to see the fuzz-rock whirlwind that was Girl In A Coma, the all-girl Texas trio that kicked off the show at the Regency Ballroom that night. For just around a half hour, singer/guitarist Nina Diaz and bassist Jenn Alva traded warm, crunchy riffs and frantic movements onstage, all the while backed by the casual yet powerful drumming of Nina’s sister, Phanie Diaz. A screeching wall of feedback was all that sat in the moments between their songs, and the set ended in a wash of colorful noise as the girls waved goodbyes to their cheering onlookers.
While Girl In A Coma was a visual tennis match between the swinging axes of Diaz and Alva, Tim Kasher and the remaining members of Cursive all hurled themselves upon the stage with furious gusto after the gentle calm of “This House Alive”, the opening number of 2012’s I Am Gemini which they used to begin their set. With six releases to their name over the past decade, the quartet plowed through their set with a wild and animated energy, reanimating old favorites and charming their fans with new creations. Kasher, guitar delicately perched between his hands, lent his shouts, cries, falsettos and wails to the thunderous force that the band fired forth in an explosive volley, an entrancing balance of beautiful-cum-caustic rock and dark, jarring strings. The set hurtled back and forth, primarily, between their aforementioned new release and their 2009 opus Mama, I’m Swollen, with some surprises from their cult classic The Ugly Organ and one piece from Domestica thrown in for good measure. The roars of approval from the assembled audience indicated that many would be happy to see the quartet close out the night themselves, and it was with wide smiles and enthusiastic waves that they departed nearly an hour later.
Though gentle red hues and deep washes of blue had illuminated the stage for the first few hours of the show that evening, a bright burst of flooding lights was offered to Minus The Bear when they finally took the stage at the late hour of 10:00PM. Grinning nods and gentle waves were offered to their wildly-cheering onlookers before the first few notes of “Steel And Blood”, and guitarist Dave Knudson immediately snapped into movement, his wildly unorthodox playing style a work of mesmerizing precision that was fascinating to behold. Singer Jake Snider moved with a graceful, tender ease, lazily strumming and swaying to the music around him, a calm and collected contrast to the wild sway of Knudson and bassist Cory Murchy. After beginning their set with a few new songs, the quintet drifted back in time for over half a decade to play “The Game Needed Me” from 2005’s Menos El Oso, and the revival of their classic tunes brought an ecstatic response from the grooving, swaying crowd.
The sonic diversity of Minus The Bear, from such a simple setup as two guitars, a bass, keyboards, and drums, is incredibly eclectic and ever-shifting. Moods, tones, and time signatures flutter about, expressing themselves like a gentle susurrus upon greening plains, each blade of grass bending its ear for a new interpretation of the glimmering sound that eclipses it. It is always astonishing to try and picture Knudson as the former guitarist of the vicious mathcore band known as Botch, for while he moves with the manic precision of a more polyrhythmic musician, his sounds and melodies are anything but abrasive. The most intense and animated part of Minus The Bear’s onstage presence, aside from the frenetic fretwork of Knudson, is the constantly-undulating swirl of lights that the band were bathed in for the majority of their set.
While 2011 saw the band taking a victory lap for the tenth anniversary of their debut record, Highly Refined Pirates, their Regency Ballroom set drew equally from their new record Infinity Overhead as well as many selections from earlier works, with a few pieces from each of their five records gracing the 90-minute set that they offered their enthusiastic fans. A massive banner detailing the title of the new album materialized at the beginning of “Toska”, and they concluded the main part of their set with the album’s closer, “Cold Company”, with Knudson leaving his guitar to howl and bleat feedback into the shifting, cheering crowd. A simple but powerful encore, consisting of 3 songs — “Dr. L’Ling”, “Lonely Gun”, and “Pachuca Sunrise” — was used to bring a conclusion to the evening, and the band came around to the merchandise area after the set to shake hands and sign autographs for their patient and jubilant fans.
My introduction to Minus The Bear came with their debut Highly Refined Pirates, and I was fortunate enough to catch them for their anniversary tour last year. While getting to see such a classic record in a small club setting was a great treat, the band’s visual element was fully realized for their Regency Ballroom performance. Similarly, the new songs bring a sonic intensity that is less meticulous tapping and more thickly-layered swaths of chords, and Knudson is fascinating to watch with every new note, his intense mannerisms clashing marvelously with the laid-back grooving and crooning of Snider. Paired with Cursive, who also have blazed a trail to walk upon with their new record, it was a nostalgic evening that brought back memories of summer college years, and an excited desire to see what the next decade will hold for these two brilliant acts.
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2012 Jonathan Pirro.