It was another school night on Philadelphia’s famous South Street. Hoards of people were pouring out of bars shrieking with laughter that could be heard blocks away, groups were walking on the sidewalks and talking about some party they were going to attend, and the smell of a Philly cheesesteak filled the streets.
Nothing else could be more alive, that is, before stepping into the Theatre of Living Arts (TLA), where the audience awaited the arrival of the headlining act, Minus the Bear.
The members of the Seattle-based band took the stage and wasted little time with introductions, opening with “Memphis and 53rd” from their latest release, “Menos el Oso.” The crowd was stirred by the song’s intensity and impressive riffs.
But what puzzled me was, for a band such as Minus the Bear that has melodies that can make a crowd want to dance, the audience was a bit stiff and seemed to be swallowed up by its own inhibitions.
Minus the Bear is the quintessential live band and the energy contained within each song is demonstrated three-fold onstage with their slamming guitar strokes, head banging, monitor-jumps and beer-and-drumming multitasking stage antics.
It was somewhere between the third and fourth song when Minus the Bear’s lead singer, Jake Snider, got the message. “This is the mellowest Philly crowd I have ever seen,” he joked.
The crowd roared in response. Many of the songs from “Menos” were played, including “Hooray,” “Drilling” and “Pachuca Sunrise,” as well as old favorites off of 2002’s release, “Highly Refined Pirates” such as “Spritz!! Spritz!!.”
The crowd was still energetic even at the end, and was stirred up by the meticulous intensity when each song’s riffs were recognized almost immediately.
They closed the show with “Drilling,” off “Menos.” The audience cheered and shouted for the band to do an encore, and after a brief waiting period, they returned to the stage.
They played “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” and “Women We Haven’t Met Yet,” from the 2002 album, much to the delight of the audience who had been shouting out requests for these songs throughout the entire set.
“Menos” is a departure from their previous release, where drums, bass and Dave Knudson’s finger-tapping guitar style, the kind pioneered by Eddie Van Halen, primarily drove songs. There is a lot more emphasis on the keyboards, and the songs are laced with an electronic thread that weaves together all components.
Minus the Bear, a five-piece alternative act hailing from Seattle, Wash., is most often placed in the “indie-rock” category and compared to acts like Jimmy Eat World and The Dismemberment Plan.
They emerged into the music scene in late 2001 with the release of their first EP, “This is What I Know about Being Gigantic,” followed by an intense touring schedule that earned them a strong fan base. Soon after, their first full-length album, “Highly Refined Pirates,” released in late 2002, received excellent reviews and their popularity continued to soar.
Late last month they released their second full-length album, “Menos el Oso,” which did not fail to satisfy fans and music critics. The band has been touring in light of their sophomore release with dates scheduled nationally and throughout Europe.
Minus the Bear is a band that’s worth not only listening to, but seeing live. The musicianship is stellar and there is no weak link in the band; their skills are beyond impressive. More than just a powerhouse of catchy pop songs, it delivers a level of consistency that its audience can depend on.
As a band, Minus the Bear has shown that it is capable of evolving into its own without losing touch of its original sound.
Alex Rose, sound engineer for the band, is well aware of the band’s adroit musicianship. “They’re a challenge, but it’s awesome,” he said. “After fifty-plus shows, I’m still a fan.”
After the show, as members of the group loaded up their tour vans, bassist Cory Murchy gave his own opinion about the show. “The show was awesome because it was one of the biggest sold out crowds as a headliner band,” he said. “A lot of people sang along to our new songs which is awesome because you never know how they’re going to react to it. To see the audience sing along, it feels like we’re doing something right.”