If you are of a certain age, you may have noticed an odd development in your musical fandom. Most of the bands you listened to in college or high school are now long gone, and even worse, some might be in heavy rotation on “classic rock” stations, radio spaces relegated for the stuff your parents use to enjoy when they were your age. If you are lucky, your favorite bands are still around, and if you are doubly lucky, they are still making music that you actually enjoy. So when you go see one of those bands live, the hope might be that one of your favorite albums might dominate the setlist. For fans of Minus The Bear (admittedly a few years out of being considered “classic”), that’s exactly what happened when they visited The Observatory on Friday night, trotting out their best and most beloved album in Menos El Oso.
The Seattle natives have been pegged with a lot of labels over the years, from math rock to indie, neither doing any of their composition justice. Singer/guitarist Jake Snider writes heartfelt and semi-relatable lyrics, often floating above the complicated guitar parts Dave Knudson has written. Knudson’s harmonics, fret tapping, and pedal mastery is something to behold. All the weird electronic exclamations you hear on the album are, for the most part, generated by either his fingers or his feet. Keyboardist Alex Rose is responsible for some of this layering, but mostly keeps the harmonies and pace in place. While Knudson’s stealth virtuosity is a sight to behold, the drum tracks are way more present live than on the album. Replacement drummer Kiefer Matthias did a stellar job filling Erin Tate’s throne, keeping the band on time and focused throughout the set.
Their set list was no surprise, running through this now-10-year old album, followed by some newer tracks scattered across their career. The crowd popped for almost every opening lick, as if they didn’t know exactly what song was to follow the next. Their energy was much higher than the band’s, who have the same laid back vibe their albums have portrayed for years. Knudson and bassist Cory Murchy sometimes left their post to rock above the crowd on the stage’s lip, but beyond those sporadic moments of movement, the group stayed rather still.
“By the numbers” can sometimes be an insult, but when we’re talking about musical calculus, by the numbers is just fine. It was a thrill seeing Knudson pull off these elaborate licks with ease and joy, and Snider’s vocals more than held up throughout the proceedings. An attachment to this one album is what would determine your satisfaction with the festivities, as the band didn’t bust out anything special for the crowd and have played nearly this exact set all tour. While they were obviously showing love to the album that got them the most attention, they have dozens more to play with after that album was finished. Hopefully a new drummer and a new album will bring new energy into the next stages of their career.