Minus the Bear at the Metro | Photos and review
Minus the Bear’s records are so well-produced that the band could suck live and get away with it. It could refrain from extensive touring and maintain a fan base through Matt Bayles’s production and Dave Knudson’s technical virtuosity alone. But lucky for us, Minus the Bear’s live chops on Sunday at the Metro were as impressive as the studio material—a rare feat for a group whose distinctive sound is this contingent on layers of effects. But it’s this capacity for live replication that sheds light on Minus the Bear’s unsung heroes (read: men not named Dave Knudson).
Drummer Erin Tate is precise to the point of sounding almost synthetic on some of his band’s recordings, as if Bayles had programmed drum loops using samples of Tate in the studio. Live, his playing is mechanically precise, but deliberate and graceful on a level almost unique to household names like Neil Peart. But unlike Peart, Tate plays with maximum restraint, providing a rock-solid core to the ethereal noodlings of Knudson and keyboardist Alex Rose. While those two may sonically steal the show on a recording, the crack of Tate’s snare and the pulse of his kick provided an unmistakably vital core to the band.
That’s not to speak ill of Knudson, whose guitar was conspicuously low in the mix on Sunday, often drowned out by the spacey squelches of Rose. The lead guitarist provides 100 percent of Minus the Bear’s stage presence, and it’s a pleasure to watch the guy effortlessly shred in person. However, it’s simply too easy to write this band off as a guitar group when its capacities as a dance band are so startlingly evident in a live setting. Any and all “overplaying” becomes merely a part of the groove when you’re packed hundreds deep in the Metro, and while Jake Snider may come off as something of a bore after an album’s listen, his casual vocal approach becomes a perfect complement to his band once you’ve realized this music is for partying and not intellectualizing.
Eighteen Individual Eyes are pretty standard indie-rock shtick: a little Breeders, a little Sonic Youth. I wouldn’t tell anyone to go running to see them, but it wouldn’t be fair to go into detail about Rah Rah without mentioning the other opener.
Hailing from Saskatchewan, Rah Rah falls victim to that particular breed of mediocrity spawned by a near-myopic focus on affectation over content. The band seems more concerned with distracting the audience—instrument swaps, shiny band-name balloons thrown into the audience and a fucking pink boa hanging from the bass player’s headstock—than writing quality songs. Not until about five tunes in, when drummer Erin Passmore had settled into guitar and lead vocals, did the band wield any palpable staying power. At times, it goes for vocally driven, percussion-heavy indie pop à la local bands like Chaperone. At times, it’s straight-up rock & roll. But Rah Rah doesn’t commit to either, which leaves the group sounding an awful lot like nothing in particular.