Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Minus the Bear @ TLA April 8, 2008

Yes, this marks my seemingly monthly post. Wish I could promise more at this time, dear patient readers. Suffice it to say that parenthood has its rewards and its Black Dog days.
So, scuttling along sideways from the Black like your average Blue, let me pontificate about a fine concert at Philly's Fillmore at the Theatre of Living Arts (How i hate that name!!! Just TLA, please!!!).

A triple bill.
First act was a local band, Elk.
Followed by Portugal. The Man (Always love a band that practices careful punctuation).
Then, headliners Minus the Bear.

I'll leave off giving band histories as the links provide quite a bit of such information, if you so desire.

Elk kicked off the concert with a 4 (5?) song set of their own compositions. Jared Obstfeld, Guitar/vocals, had a fine voice, though the sound mix negated any clarity to the lyrics. Mr.TJ Smith seemed to be working intently and intensely on the (his) left of the stage, on guitar. Unfortunately, the sound mix (again) knocked his solos completely out. He was hoping for an 11 on his amp; it sounded more like a two. I will vouch that he was strumming furiously. The band played with a visual energy not reciprocated with their emanating sound. A bummer for all concerned. Noticed some band parental units, with video cameras, snaking through the standing crowd trying to catch the best angles. Hope these guys appreciate their 'rents' support!

Amid lighting on the darker end of the spectrum and wispy smoke blowing along the stage, Portugal. The Man commenced with their presentation around 8:40 pm. This 3-piece band, fronted five that night. No intros were made, so the names of the keyboard and spec-'fect guy cannot be provided. Why these guys like to go the Three-Name-Route (shaded of John Wesly Harding) is not for me to get into, 'cept to comment that the Three-Name-Route suggests a stuck-up attitude that the band does not display. Zachery Scott Carothers, the bass-player, is a total nut on stage. He plays the bass as if in a set-long struggle with an anaconda. The un-mentioned keyboard player has his own movement challenges that, when coupled with the dance stylings of Mr. Carothers, made this audience member wince with empathetic embarrassment while also admiring their guileless charm tromping in mis-step on the TLA stage. Mr. John Baldwin Gourley, the lead guitarist and vocalist of this energetic bunch, cradles his guitar high and tight to his left armpit and emits tight squeals and synthesized yelps throughout the performance. The guy's an ace; it would have been great to hear some longer, more developed solos from him. His talent is undeniable. The group's set list, forgive my addled brain, was 5 songs as well, with each song tailing into and out of longer improvisations. Some of the improvs tended to the "Let's play this jag 'til it dies" style which was a shame as Mr. Gourley certainly has the licks to elucidate rather than repitate (yeah, yeah, "repitate" doesn't exist, but it reads better with "elucidate"). The sound mix was much better than Act #1 proving the point that it wasn't the sound system, it was the sound guy who was asleep or not there for Elk's part of the show.

Finally, at 9:50 (show "started" at 8:00), Minus the Bear took command. The place was packed at this point; turns out the show was sold out. The audience's enthusiasm and energy were at a fever pitch which was surprising as the TLA had ripped out the theatre's seating eons ago and the fans had been standing on the forward-tilting wooden floor since well before 8:00. The calf muscles and shins were screaming for a chair. To get it out of the way, the sound mix was clear, strong and consistent admirably reflecting each band member's contribution to each song.
What first interested me about the band was the distinctive taste and force of the drummer on the albums, Planet of Ice and Menos el Oso (which is Spanish for "Minus the Bear"). Mr. Erin Tate, the live version, did not disappoint. Tight, busy, and exercising quick short strokes, he, along with lead guitarist Dave Knudson, had the energy levels on high right from the start. Starting with several selections from their latest release, Planet of Ice, the band had the audience singing along all the way through selections from Menos el Oso. For those purists and CD-aholics (I raise my hand unashamedly), it was amazing to hear their renditions follow their recorded songs so closely. There were enough side trips by the band through some of the songs to prove they weren't a great studio band simply doing reps. The explorations tended to be short and quick, keeping the integrity of their songs, which tend to be in 3:30 to 4:40 range, in place. A fabulous performance. I encourage you all to give them a look on their current tour.

A tip of the wig to Mr. Whisky Prajer, who first clued me in on these guys. Thanks again, WP!

Here's a YouTube of their Pachuca Sunrise, from Menos el Oso.

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Well, you certainly put up with a heap of grief to see these guys. I am gratified to hear they did not disappoint. As much as I enjoy their music, I highly doubt I could have been cajoled out of the bad mood the accompanying adventures would have put me in.
Gotta tell you, WP, "Minus the Bear cures all ills. A most enjoyable treat after the maltreatment outside the TLA. We've got tix for Devotchka in May. I'll drive more attentively then.
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