Minus The Bear leads alt-rock assault on Starland Ballroom

To say Minus The Bear has been on fire lately would be a gross understatement. The Seattle-based progressive/indie-rock outfit has been surging up the charts with their latest release “Planet Of Ice” and the video for the album’s single “Knights” has been in high rotation on both mtv2 and mtvU.

So when over 300 adoring raucous fans exploded as vocalist Jake Snider began to sing the opening verse to “Knights,” matching every word to the synth-infused track during a packed show at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J., Sunday night, he shouldn’t have been surprised.

Snider repeatedly thanked the fans for their passion and support as the band plowed through its set, energizing fans with a mixture of frenetic tracks off of “Planet of Ice” and the band’s 2005 release “Menos El Oso.”

The versatile band switched gears from melodic to chaotic to poignant and back again while cycling through some of the most acclaimed beats in its discography. The band tugged on its’ fans’ heartstrings with some of the more emotionally charged, romanticized songs on the new disc, including “Ice Monster” and “Dr. L’Ling” as well as the sexually driven “White Mystery.”

Despite the high energy of the music and the non-stop motion of hyperactive guitarist Dave Knudson, the band’s lack of stage presence continues to be somewhat of a hindrance to their live shows. Even in the face of countless catcalls and praise, Snider and the rest of his crew remained as stoic and dispassionate as the majority of his vocals. The band has mastered the hard part and has become a group of extremely gifted and versatile musicians. Now they need to learn how to be rock stars.

That’s not to say they haven’t been improving. Snider experiences something of a catharsis on tracks like “When We Escape” and “Burying Luck” where he repeatedly begs the question “Will he take her love?” in a half-screamed melodic tone.

Minneapolis-based Ela opened the night’s festivities with a resonant dose of Sunny Day Real Estate inspired music, powered by a host of introspective lyrics, rough but effective vocals and simplistic, driving guitar riffs. A rock band firmly rooted in the days of The Promise Ring, Sunny Day Real Estate and Braid, these guys lit up the crowd with their brand of straight-laced, poetic “emo.”

While Ela struck a chord with the crowd, hip-hop/psycho-pop fusion act Subtle fell way short, confusing the sea of Minus The Bear aficionados with bizarre on-stage antics, over-complicated song arrangements and an unhealthy amount of cursing from the mouth of emcee/keyboardist Adam “DoseOne” Drucker.

“We’re named Subtle, and this song is about killing bitches,” shrieked Drucker as he paced the stage, hurling plastic forks at the crowd and fiddling with an on-stage sculptured bust of a woman which sported a grievous looking wound. Drucker’s antics earned about as much favor with the Sayreville fans as Subtle’s unsettling mixture of synth-induced drums, viola, saxophone and Drucker’s spastic delivery style, which sounded more like a bout of Tourrette’s than anything else.

Minus The Bear succeeded in proving once again that they are one of the most innovative and exciting acts of the past decade, and that they have the potential to carry that trend over the next 10 years.