Concert review and set list: Minus the Bear puts on plus-sized show at Plush, Friday, October 26

Minus the Bear at Plush. Photo by Kelsey McClure.

Minus the Bear performed on Friday night at Plush for a crowd that was mostly human.

Exceptions could be made for the species of individual wearing a bear costume. He was in fact, a young man clad in an anatomically correct bear suit (fangs hung from the jowls extending from his headwear) that covered him head-to-toe in shag carpet-length brown fur.

When asked “Why the suit?” he responded, “It’s a Minus the Bear show, I had to even things out!” Later on, he was overheard using the same reason on another investigator. The curious youth was male, intoxicated, and the precise model needed to show who comprised 80% of Minus the Bear’s crowd. The other 19% were voting-age women, and, because it is not fair to call anyone that dedicated to giving grizzlies their moment “human,” one percent bear.

A few people could be seen turned away at the door. Whispers of this being Plush’s first sold-out show were compartmentalized. It certainly felt like it. If not for the crowd, fragrant with beer sweat and embodying “rowdy,” then for Plush sending around a young woman with waffle cones full of French fries and popcorn — a trick nabbed from baseball stadiums to placate the hungry I had never seen applied to a Plush-size music venue.

The packs of people that surrounded Plush’s four bars pre-Minus the Bear’s entrance caused a five-to-seven minute wait, and it can be inferred from the waffle cone-toting vendor that Plush’s kitchen was equally swamped. In addition to the polite bar masses, and the lady with snacks, an orca-sized merch table stood adjacent to Plush’s stage. Packed with Minus the Bear posters, shirts and records, it was fit for a spacious, outdoor venue and was a reminder of the fans Minus the Bear has accumulated in the past decade. The sheer number of fans made walking towards the stage feel like an other-worldly experience.

The energy given off by the audience felt combustible. Audience members were loud, liquored up and, under anticipation’s influence, buzzing like a broken amp. When Minus the Bear walked on stage, with synth-maestro Alex Rose lighting their way with a flashlight, the audience cheered with Bonnaroo-level volume.

The band opened with “Steel and Blood” off 2012′s “Infinity Overhead” and barreled through their set list for over an hour with a level of constant energy sustained by deft song choices. Songs bled from one to the other to create a plot like the cardiograph of a healthy heart. The constancy of its energy never wavered with fatigue. When the track “White Mystery” from “Planet of Ice” appeared, and its slinky tempo matched the ultra-sensual subject matter, it was absorbed into “My Time” from 2010′s “OMNI” like it had flown into a black hole. It existed for a moment, but only to guide one song into the other and build a set with expert flow.

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Concert review: White Rabbits (with Union Tree Review) throw a rhythmic dance party at Off Broadway, Saturday, October 13

White Rabbits at Off Broadway. Photo by Colin Suchland.

Last night at Off Broadway marked the first time the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based (by way of Columbia, Mo.) White Rabbits‘ return to its home state. With the help of St. Louis’ Union Tree Review, White Rabbits proved they know how to throw a drum and bass-riddled homecoming party.

The six-piece Union Tree Review took the stage with a powerful post-rock indie style that featured a trumpet, violin, warped-out guitar, dizzying dynamics and Tawaine Noah’s crystalline lead vocals. The band rocked through the early part of their set with tunes from 2011′s “Death and Other Forms of Relaxation.”

At the end of their set, Noah offered the crowd “Skeletons,” which featured a slow, cunning build and release. A horn hook blasted over Noah’s well-delivered, gothic lyrics. Union Tree Review closed with “Clouds,” a still unrecorded track, which ought to be on their EP due out around March 2013. The song showcased the band banging cymbals held high, dancing wildly and leaping off amps in true let’s-wreck-shit, Cursive fashion.

The crowd gathered around White Rabbits and watched as Stephen Patterson, seated at a synthesizer, began “I Had It Coming.” With his hair slicked back, Gregory Roberts strummed the song’s chords on an old hollow body. During “While We Go Dancing,” from 2007′s “Fort Nightly,” Matthew Clark sported a red Cardinals hat as he rocked out on a bass before shifting to a second drum set.

White Rabbits’ newest material from 2012′s “Milk Famous” is a major departure for the band. The band has arguably matured, creating material full of intricate, uptempo soundscapes that heavily rely on their two drummers. This folds unmistakable new energy into White Rabbits’ live show, as proved by the crowd’s constant vibration.

“Are You Free,” from “Milk Famous,” forged a groove that mingled with Jamie Levinson’s drums to create one of the evening’s most danceable tracks. On White Rabbits’ newest outings, the complexity does not rely on lyrics, delivery or imagistic content, but rather on instrumentation, which, though lacking dynamics, pushes ahead like an English coney dipped in a vat of speed and let loose for the dogs to chase.

“Milk Famous” lead single, “Temporary,” found the audience dancing lightly, but I expected more from the track, which did little more than repeat the ephemeral notion, “It’s temporary, it’s temporary,” over a wash of chest-crashing drum and bass. “Kid on My Shoulders” from “Fort Nightly” stood out as a nice throwback to White Rabbits’ earlier, more playful, indie-centric work. “The Salesman (Tramp Life)” offered a satisfying Melvillean lyrical element, a nice change from the dance-club feel dominating most of the evening.

Patterson dedicated “It’s Frightening” to his nieces, who scurried smiling through the venue wearing white “Milk Famous” shirts. The song unwound with grace, bleeding into “Heavy Metal,” which found the two drummers clanging away on their ride cymbals during the heady chorus.

White Rabbits wound down the set with “Danny Come Inside” and fan-favorite, “Percussion Gun.” The crowd attempted to clap along to the song’s crazed floor tom drumming, but couldn’t keep pace and opted to flail their arms, mock playing the memorable drumming.

After a short break, and cajoling from the friends and family-filled crowd, White Rabbits returned for a three-song encore which included “If Not Me,” “The Plot” and “Rudie Fails.” Each track blasted ahead with artful insight and passion, but “The Plot” placed the audience into a happy oblivion with its ornate chorus and manic drum work.

With a nod to songs new and old, White Rabbits proved they retain the versatility that made them famous. Now, with the addition of a more drum-centric album to their catalogue, White Rabbits are “Milk Famous.”

Correction: The review originally stated White Rabbits hadn’t played in Missouri since 2007. In fact, the band played St. Louis in April 2012.

Concert review: Stars please Plush party, Friday, October 5

facebook.com/starsstars

Montreal’s Stars made a return visit to St. Louis last night, this time at the fun restaurant/bar/venue/hangout that is Plush.

The Midtown venue felt a little cramped for Stars, who previously played here a few years back in an open field at Washington University and at the Pageant in 2008.

I think the main issue in terms of sight lines are the two huge beams in the middle of the dance floor. I suppose the owners can’t do much about this other than pushing the bar further back to allow for more floor room.
I went into the show not expecting too much, as the band’s last two albums were a little uneven. Stars had hit their stride with two stellar mid-2000s records, “Set Yourself on Fire” (2004) and “In Our Bedroom After the War” (2007).

After squirming and straining to see all of the band members throughout their 90-minute set, I emerged from Plush re-energized about the band and ready to give their new album, “The North,” a fighting chance to remain on my iTunes for the long haul.

The band kicked things off with “The Theory of Relativity,” also the first track from the new album. It featured some old-school Stars synth lines as well as a Human League-like electronic beat. The song set the tone for what would prove to be an upbeat night of music overall.

Stars stuck with new material at the start, including “A Song is a Weapon,” to generally favorable responses. Then the quintet laid down “Ageless Beauty,” an iconic indie-rock song that helped define the 2000s for many fans electronic-rock music. Funny thing is, the band decided to go lo-fi and play this and many other tunes as guitar rockers. I thought it was a nice twist. At times, it sounded like Guided By Voices had stuck around at Plush for another week to play a special Stars tribute show.

The harmonies from lead singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell shone through the noise like a beacon, as they usually do. Millan and Campbell traded off lead and harmony, high and low, guitar and toy-Casio-wind-instrument-thing to stunning effect. They literally leaned on each other throughout the show when one needed help from the other.

A few songs fell flat, such as the yacht rock-ish (in a bad way) title track from the new record. Also “Do You Want To Die Together?” came off as a darkly bizarre Roy Orbison-meets-”Glee” show tune that eluded me a bit. But they usually would bounce back with shots of adrenaline, like when they played the disco-inspired “We Don’t Want Your Body,” from their 2010 album, “The Five Ghosts.” Millan and Campbell sung and danced in a way that would have made Barry, Robin and Maurice proud.

Campbell ran through Smiths verses to open a few songs, including verses of “Unhappy Birthday” to open “Your Ex-lover Is Dead” and “Reel Around The Fountain” to open “Take Me to the Riot.” The latter song was easily the highlight of the night, igniting the crowd to a near riot. It didn’t rival the chaos seen at Turner Field after the Cardinals beat the Braves, but it was invigorating nonetheless.

Another highlight was “Elevator Love Letter,” an odd song that is nondescript at the start, but gets better and better as it goes along. As the early Stars hit is ending, you find yourself singing along and wishing it would keep going.

One of the night’s final songs was the infectious crowd-pleaser “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It.” A better (and simpler) title could have been “Ode to New Order.” I closed my eyes during the song and I actually believed I was at a New Order concert for a minute — actually kind of great, given I’ve never been to a New Order show.

Before singing one last a cappella song with Millan, Campbell announced that he would soon transform into DJ Dirty Kimono for an after-party at the venue, which sounded fun. Unfortunately, I had to bounce.

‘Good for your brain and good for your chops’ An interview with Emily Haines of Metric

facebook.com/metric / Brantley Gutierrez

Metric has been making new wave-flavored indie rock since 1998. The band has released five albums of evolving material and its latest, “Synthetica,” appeared this past June.

Emily Haines and the rest of the band have just started a tour that brings them to the Pageant on Tuesday, Oct 2.

Nick Cowan: Thanks for chatting with me. How are you?

Emily Haines: Just started the tour in Minneapolis, everyone’s in good spirits.

I got to see you at Lollapalooza this year and it was great. You owned that stage.

Thanks, man. We had a great day.

How’s “Synthetica” being received?

Really well! It’s always been an interesting process when you bring the new material and integrate it into your existing repertoire. Plus, it’s our fifth album so we’re used to this process. It’s one of my favorite things; part of creating the whole Metric experience is always representing all the chapters and phases of the band. So, we still play songs from our first record and it’s always interesting to see how the new stuff will sometimes match up with something really old. It’s a nice sense that’s it’s all one big body of work.

We love playing around with the possibilities, trying new arrangements, improvising a little, and people really seem to be having a good time. That makes me happy.

It sounds like, in a way, that you’re making a mix tape out of your own songs.

Yeah, that’s how it feels.

You mentioned the arc of your career and you don’t push older stuff to the back. How do fans react to hearing a bit of everything rather than the “new album and a few hits” formula?

When I’m playing music I’m not able to focus on individual reactions. We know when there’s a great feeling in the room and just follow that.

In addition to the five records, how did you get involved with film soundtracks? The song “Black Sheep” from Scott Pilgrim, a song for “Twilight,” a couple of others — how did you get involved with that?

I don’t know. It’s something that we’ve always had an interest in developing. We’ve been interested in scoring and are quite inspired by film. There’s a chemistry there. “Black Sheep” was a song that didn’t fit very naturally on the album “Fantasies” and we just held on to it. It turned out it was unbelievably perfect, lyrically and otherwise, when Edgar Wright [co-writer and director of "Scott Pilgrim vs The World"] gave me a call. Bryan [O'Malley], who wrote the graphic novel the movie is based on, used live shots of Metric in the book, so there was an interesting correlation there. He asked if we had anything and I told him about “Black Sheep.”

Around the same time Howard Shore reached out to us to co-write the theme song to the “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” score. To do a writing project with a composer of that caliber, was an honor. And he asked to score the movie “Cosmopolis” with him.

With every film project it feels like we get more a little bit more advanced and we get more of a chance to learn about the medium and the process. It’s good for your brain and good for your chops.

How did the “Synthetica Hide & Seek” get conceived. Can you describe it for folks that haven’t heard of it?

The “Hide & Seek” was a little project on-line that gave people a chance to find clues and use those to unlock songs. It seemed like people had a really good time with it. Rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be fun so sometimes you have to remind people of that and not take ourselves too seriously. That’s kind of the ethos behind it.

This is what’s so great about this project for me, what really gives me a lot of pleasure. The fact that we put our records out ourselves, spent many days in the early days of their career — as many artists do — battling the [music] business. For most artists, it doesn’t feel like it serves them very well. It’s kind of a whole thing in itself to navigate that. Usually the terms that are presented to musicians are kind of at the bottom of the barrel. After many years of grappling with that we took quite a bold move with “Fantasies” and put it out ourselves in the United States. We went through quite a protracted legal thing so we could be free of previous contracts and put our work out ourselves.

So, one of the things we get to do now that we run the show is that we can come up with all kinds of things like the hide and seek idea. Our manager has a really forward thinking mind, doesn’t care about what the protocol is about how you’re “supposed” to put out a record. We just follow what feels right for us and what we’re excited about.

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‘Tapping into something worth getting excited about’ An interview with Grizzly Bear

Tom Hines

Grizzly Bear‘s newest release, “Shields,” is a jagged and dynamic masterpiece.

The four piece’s most uptempo record to date, “Shields” represents a synthesis of Grizzly Bear. Having tried out new writing styles and combinations, the Brooklyn, N.Y. band demonstrates versatility and a willingness to experiment. But make no mistake, experimentation is not completely king; the band organizes its opuses to the point of near obsession, squeezing interest and surprise from these heady tunes.

I recently interviewed Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen about their process, live show, video plans and upcoming tour.

Will Kyle: How has Grizzly Bear evolved?

Ed Droste: “Horn of Plenty” featured messy performances looped in this unique, beautiful manner to create an intricate, less-performed aspect. Our early live show featured a lot of improvisation and a kind of intentional messiness. We were just having fun and enjoying being loose.

When we were younger, we, the more technically trained members of the band, pushed away from playing in an overly technical way. It felt good to play messy. Now we just think more about songwriting and recording rather than technique, but somehow, we’re more precise now.

Can you talk about your process between records?

Droste: In the past, we’ve gone off on writing retreats. We tried that again for “Shields,” but I think we hit our stride when we all just got together and tried new ways of collaborating.

For instance, Dan and I wrote songs from the ground up, which was unusual for us; Dan would often write by himself, while I would write with Chris Taylor. This time, we got to a point where we decided to try some new things that were spontaneous and off the cuff. We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t overwrought in any sense.

Overall, we were having fun discovering new ways of working together, which was when we discovered we were tapping into something worth getting excited about.

When collaborating, do you write in the studio as you record, or do you tend to experiment without the tape running?

Droste: We don’t have any true studio time, so it’s all the same thing. We go off on retreats and we work together and hang out. Sometimes we’re recording, sometimes we’re not. Especially on this last trip, we tried to keep things as casual as we could, remain willing to try anything and record when it felt good.

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Concert review: Sebadoh rocks like they always should have, Off Broadway, Wednesday, August 15

facebook.com/realsebadoh / Hedwig Plomp

Lou Barlow, who opened up for Sebadoh with a solo set of his own, has to be one of the busiest guys in indie rock today — albeit with crappy guitars.

Lou Barlow’s Sentridoh, which was the original moniker for his solo output during the time spent with Dinosaur Jr., has since become an umbrella for all his various solo material over the last few decades. Last night’s performance was a real treat for any Sebadoh/Barlow fan.

Sparingly accompanying himself with his infamous baritone ukulele, Barlow serenaded the audience at Off Broadway. He covered a lot of his career in this short solo set. Opening with a new rendition of “Temporary Dream,” Barlow continued to reach way back and play plenty of tracks from the first Sentridoh album, “Weed Forestin’” such as “Jealous of Jesus” and “It’s so Hard to Fall in Love.”

However, during a crudely intimate spoken segment of “I Believe in Fate” — Lou’s dark and smart-ass segments like this tend to be some of my favorites — I heard giggling and laughing from the crowd. That’s something I never would have expected with his older material since it seems so ridiculously serious and self-absorbed. But Lou is now able to make clear what is comical in his music and what is not (let’s face it, most of it is ultra serious). His sense of humor is much more obvious in new songs as “The Ballad of Daykitty” and a new song debuted last night that had a lot to do with “gazing into the calves of champions” and the inferiority feelings Barlow himself experiences when dropping his daughter off at an uppity school. Other highlights of the Sentridoh set included the Dinosaur Jr. contribution “Poledo” and “Ride the Darker Wave.”

When finishing, Lou told us he’d be back. And he was back. Back with Sebadoh. On this occasion, Sebadoh consists of Barlow, Jason Loewenstein, and Bob D’Amico. Initially, I was a bit disappointed that there’d be no Eric Gaffney. I don’t know why I felt like that since when I think of Sebadoh I mainly think of Barlow and his “stinking garden of delights.” But, that didn’t even matter. D’Amico proved a beast on the kit and looked like Tony Danza. He made Sebadoh sound more like a fully-realized rock band rather than a songwriting collaborative project that they were so notorious for throughout the ’90s. The classic “Homemade” and “Rebound” were especially powerful and rocking. D’Amico is precise and intense and really gave such songs a new backbone.

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Concert review: Nada Surf (with WATERS), in earnest, at the Old Rock House, Monday, June 25

Nada Surf at the Old Rock House. Photo by Roy Kasten.

There’s irony in the fact that what most people know about the band Nada Surf is that they once had a mainstream hit in the ’90s by the name of “Popular” — and that’s about it.

The band isn’t that popular and they certainly aren’t mainstream anymore either. Their past three albums — “Lucky,” “If I had a Hi-Fi” and “The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy” — could be read as metaphors for the waves subsequently felt by critics and fans after each release. “Lucky” (2008) established Nada Surf as as a band with serious pretensions at a time when the music industry was being transformed from a label-based, CD-distribution model to a studio-based, peer-to-peer model. As a result, the New Yorkers developed fans they never would have had, but “Hi-Fi” (2010), an album of cover songs, passed many of us by with little fanfare — and judging from Pitchfork and the charts, a degree of indifference took hold.



Which is why I was happy that the audience was so engaged this past Monday at Old Rock House. First, I was happy that the sound they represent — earnest guitar riffs and even more earnest lyrics — isn’t going away. Second, that the band that made the song “See These Bones” a remarkable anthem worthy of R.E.M. or the Pixies back in 2008 wasn’t reduced to dust, despite lyrics like, “Just like we are, you’ll be dust.” It was the highlight of the night for me but left an odd longing. Why couldn’t every song they play be like this?



Nada Surf doesn’t exactly disappoint, but they don’t overwhelm either. Those coming to see a band like Weezer or Death Cab for Cutie won’t get anything close. They are a band of anti-hits, with an anti-hipster style to boot and a stubborn integrity that borders on pathological. I’ve heard others comment that they sound best in a studio (who doesn’t?) and that their live stuff tends towards well-practiced jam-bandiness.

This latest performance didn’t prove otherwise. The vocals could have been a little louder or the drums a bit softer, and the tempo changes should have been more pronounced. All in all, the show lacked the nuance that fills their records, but it still delivered some fine moments — especially “Jules and Jim” and “Let the Fight Do the Fighting,” both songs that show Nada Surf’s depth and set the band apart. Does that sound like equivocation from a wannabe fan? Maybe, maybe not.



The opening band, WATERS, was a perfect lead-in for Nada Surf. These guys are so raw they make Jon Voight in “Midnight Cowboy” look like a well-heeled veteran. When their singer, a youngin’ out of San Francisco named Van Pierszalowski, gathered in the crowd for an a capella number, I almost felt bad for him. Just last month, I’d seen Israel Nebeker from Blind Pilot do the same to great effect, but these guys seemed too eager too pull it off. To the contrary, he got an audience as his chorus, and made my cynical and stodgy self feel ashamed at my premature embarrassment.

After WATERS and Nada Surf, I made a small mental note to myself. Relax your expectations a bit man and let it flow; sometimes a little earnestness is what you need.

Album review: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros get by on a song and a prayer on ‘Here’

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
“Here”
Vagrant

From a distance, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros could be mistaken for a musically-inclined cult.

Alex Ebert would be their leader, usually dressed in white, with his unkempt hair and tendency to go without shoes or even a shirt during shows. Cue in the 11 other members with their instruments in tow, and you’re set.


When Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros came out of the gate in 2009, the band permeated college and indie airwaves with “Home” and inspired audiences with stomps and sing-alongs on tour. Three years later, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are back, and more chilled out than before. Alex Ebert and his crew, 12 of them altogether, seem to embrace their own sort of semi-psychedelic brand of Americana on “Here.”



The album begins with “Man on Fire,” a declaration made by Ebert, for “the whole damn world to come dance with me.” With echoing background “oohs” and “hmms,” the song sounds fitting for an evening walk in the desert that ends in a jubilee. The juxtaposition of vocal choreography, percussion and a few finger snaps stands out prominently on “Man on Fire,” giving the song a rich texture. “Man on Fire” is the kind of song that is done well with so many members, save for the unfavorable usage of a didgeridoo.



Listeners who resonated with the charms and vocal cooing between Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos will more than likely enjoy the workings of “That’s What’s Up,” a track that doesn’t disappoint in regards to vocal back and forth banter from Ebert to Castrinos. The song’s twangy, distorted guitar and rhyming verse — “I’ll be the church, you be the steeple/You be the King, I’ll be the people” — accompanied by a steady kick drum seems as though it could be found among tracks on a country hymnal record from the ’70s. 



But it’s during the last chorus and outro that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros go from hippie folk-rock sect to church choir, abandoning all instruments but 24 hands clapping, while Castrinos sings with conviction, “Love, it is our honor/Love, it is our call/Love goes on forever/Yeah, love it is our home.”


”I Don’t Wanna Pray” is a sonic charmer with all of the band’s endearing musical signatures: appropriate tambourine use (but not abuse), claimable beats and choruses oft sung by the whole gang, with Ebert and Castrinos pushed to the front.


Armed with a banjo and soft vocals, Ebert and company sing, “I love my God/God made love” — not to mention hate, good, man and the singers themselves. After a tranquil half-minute, the almost meditative devotional introduction turns rambunctious with the addition of playful tambourine taps, drumstick clacks and Ebert’s pleasantly defiant “I don’t wanna pray to my maker/I just wanna be what I see.” He’s “looking to become not the pray-er, but the prayer.” The composition of “I Don’t Wanna Pray” may be simplistic, but it works if for no reason other than the fact that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have never insisted on making overly complicated music. 



Castrinos steps up to the front, showcasing her vocals as a centerpiece on “Fiya Wata,” the most amplified song on the album. Her vocals are rich, raspy and soulful as she sings about “Lettin’ that love blaze/like fire!” with a tone that rings near to that of Janis Joplin, though not as throaty. As powerful as her voice is, the track feels out of place within the context of the other songs on “Here.” Regardless, “Fiya Wata” is a showcase for Seth Ford-Young’s bass skills, as well as Aaron Arntz’s piano contributions and Josh Collazo’s drumming.



In its entirety, “Here” could almost be seen as a motley collection of hymns, if even only in a superficial sense with songs titled “I Don’t Wanna Pray,” “Dear Believer” and “Man on Fire.” It wouldn’t be a hymnal found in a church pew, but its makers are sure to attract a flock of new listeners wherever they go.

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