Minus the Bear, Annuals
Harlow’s – Sacramento, California
Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008
Having perfected the art of showing up fashionably late, I arrived at Harlow’s just after Helms Alee finishes playing. With Harlow’s this is usually the best option if you want to avoid the arrival crowd—the early birds were lined up outside at least 20 minutes before the doors even opened.
Harlow’s was dimly lit with inviting shades of blue and green, creating an inviting atmosphere. I snagged one of the tables scattered near the bar—having been a long-time fan of Minus the Bear, I was prepared for a mellow evening. As the curtain unfolded for a surprisingly dramatic entrance, Annuals arrived onstage.
“Yeah, we’re okay.”
While I laughed at the seemingly excessive sound checks at the beginning of the show, it turned out that the band wasn’t just obsessive-compulsive about the show sounding perfect—there were some serious technical problems during their set. I scoffed at the earplugs being sold at the entrance, but it turned out that the reverberating noise within the small venue was just too loud, especially with the singer. More cow bell, less vocals?
Annuals lived up to their reputation as an indie-rock band, with poignant, throaty vocals screamed out by the endearingly earnest singer. Some of their songs were a little too mellow for my tastes—I believe those were mostly from their earlier releases. But toward the end, the band played a couple of upbeat gems that brought up the energy of the room, and had fans clapping along. Overall, the Annuals put their heart and soul into the show and surpassed their label of “opening band.”
“There are no ghosts, watching through your walls”¦“ began lead singer Jake Snider of Minus the Bear, opening with the song “Lotus” from their most recent album, Planet of Ice. Having memorized just about every one of the band’s songs, I noticed that their live performance was quite a bit faster than the studio releases. The songs blended seamlessly into one another, often without any pauses or transitions.
While in some bands it seems like the singer is perpetually in the limelight, each member of Minus the Bear seemed equally involved, swaying and bobbing to the music throughout the show. It actually seemed to take the singer a couple of songs to really get into the music—but soon he was tossing his long, well-conditioned mane around just like the others.
Minus the Bear isn’t a chatty band, and with the exception of a quick shout-out to Obama, they didn’t use the stage as a soapbox to discuss their political views. This show was all about the music.
Their generously long set, complete with an encore, even included some acoustic performances. The set list did seem to favor their new songs; they played most of Planet of Ice and passed over some of my favorites from their older albums. But I forgave them when they wrapped up the encore with the song, “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse.”
Minus the Bear never fails to disappoint, blending edgy guitar riffs with unique and deceivingly upbeat instrumentals. The sound is almost hypnotic as their surprisingly dark lyrics paint pictures about flawed relationships, altered states of mind and what it’s like to be human. If you haven’t checked this band out, maybe it’s time you did.