"Minus the Bear in Iowa City." – Concert Review

One of my good friends Corey Fineran (along with his wife Tawny) from http://www.ivyenvy.com/ and http://www.soundsfromtheattic.net/ recently got the chance to check out Minus the Bear with special guests Rah Rah and Tim Kasher…sort of. Sorry about the time mix up Corey. Check out their review of the show below.

In all my years of going to shows, I’ve never experienced a headliner opening the show. For about 15 minutes, that’s what I thought was happening at the Blue Moose Tap House in Iowa City, Monday evening. On a cold night with the mercury hovering at 4 degrees, Minus the Bear quickly warmed the room by opening their set with “Secret Country” off their new album “Omni.”

After an hour long car-ride across the frozen tundra that is east-central Iowa in December, I made it through a song and a half before I needed to make a trip to the bathroom. I noticed a promo poster above the urinal for this exact show that advertised a 6pm start time. I was told that the start time was 8pm. This was a major disappointment because it meant not only that we missed the Canadian outfit Rah Rah, but also the Midwestern Emo legend from Omaha, Tim Kasher of Cursive and The Good Life, touring in support of his solo album released in October entitled “The Game of Monogamy.”

As a fan of Minus the Bear’s earlier albums, it’s easy to notice some changes in their music. Previous albums “Menos El Oso” and “Highly Refined Pirates” captured you with the technical and sometimes spastic guitar tapping of former Botch member, Dave Knudson and the odd time signatures that guitarist/vocalist Jake Snider brought from Sharks Keep Moving, which also had members of Pretty Girls Make Graves and The Blood Brothers.

Their 2010 release entitled “OMNI” pushes the guitar-work into the background while pulling forward the electronic aspects of the band and slowing down the tempo, which indicates that the band has become more comfortable with allowing space to develop in their music. The songs seem to be given free reign with time to form and wander through different phases.

I have not grown completely familiar with “OMNI,” but it didn’t take long to see that Minus the Bear more clearly emphasizes the beats and sounds that make you tap your toes in their live performance compared to the recording. These bearded gentlemen from Seattle mentioned the 53 degree temperature difference between Iowa City and their hometown, but quickly settled in and made themselves at home at the Blue Moose. In a roughly 90 minute long set, Minus the Bear weaved in and out of their four full length albums. It was a good mixture of older songs and material from “OMNI.” They entered the stage to the loop that is at the beginning of “Secret Country” and let the intensity build before they kicked in with their signature brand of timing. As far as new material goes, it seemed that the crowd reacted most strongly to “My Time”, the opening track on “OMNI.” Towards the end of their set, they played “Into the Mirror”, which seemed incredibly more intense than the song does on the album. They ended their set with some of their most well known songs. They introduced “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” as their last song. I believe this was the only song they played off “Highly Refined Pirates.”

There was a mood in the room that I had not experienced at a show before. It was warm, intense, and the 300 people in the room couldn’t help but move to the rhythms that Minus the Bear was developing on the stage. They came back out for a two-song encore and played “Knights” off “Planet of Ice” and “Pachuca Sunrise” off “Menos El Oso.”

The Blue Moose Tap House is your typical college town indie rock/punk venue bar. Walking through the door, we were greeted by about 300 college students holding PBR tallboys. I have gone to many shows in Iowa City over the last 15 years and this was the first time I felt noticeably older than the people with whom I was surrounded. Nothing makes you feel like the old guy like getting carded, but having to flip through the photos of your children in your wallet to get to your ID. The Blue Moose served as a great venue for this show. It was spacious enough to not be uncomfortable, and cozy enough to soak up the collective body heat to stave off the chill that went to your bones by walking from the street parking to the venue. This was my first time going to The Blue Moose; the wait staff and vibe of the place were more inviting than most “hipster bars”.

I was looking forward to observing the instrumentation of Minus the Bear’s live performance and because the stage only elevated the band about 3 feet, and I was not aware it was Minus the Bear coming out onto the stage at the beginning of their set because of the start time mix-up, I was not able to view their use of equipment. Being such a fan of the technical guitar-tapping of the first Minus the Bear releases, I was not completely sold on “OMNI.” However, I have a much better appreciation for the album after seeing them perform these songs live. I would strongly encourage you to check these guys out if they come near you. Just be sure to check the venue’s start time.


Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.
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