Thanks to traffic and a parking spot blocks from the venue, I missed opening act the New Trust and came into the TLA halfway through Criteria's set. As I scrambled to find a good vantage point amongst the sold out crowd, front-man Stephen Pedersen announced that his band was going to play a few more "rock songs," and then preceded to show that he was not one for lying.
Criteria swayed and bobbed their heads in classic rock fashion as they banged out their dropped-D riff rock that served as a reminder that not everything Nirvana spawned resembles the artless mess that dominates rock radio. The sound quality at the TLA was nearly flawless with the drum intro to single "Prevent the World" sounding just as loud and clear as the album version. Pedersen and bassist A.J. Mogis's vocals were also a dead ringer for their recorded counterparts and high enough in the mix to be understood clearly. The few numbers I saw Criteria bang out were loud, powerful, and enjoyable, and the excellent sound quality was matched by the band's vigor. Still, their admirable stage presence seemed lacking once These Arms Are Snakes tore through their frenzied set.
From the first song, singer Steve Snere was a whirling dervish of sexual fury. Whether he was dancing like his body was mid-seizure, crossing the stage with a commanding swagger, or dipping into the crowd, Snere was acting as a conduit for all the energy that comes packed in each of These Arms Are Snakes' post-hardcore ditties. The highlight of the set came about halfway through when guitarist Ryan Frederiksen looped a guitar riff and the the entire band then walked off stage. After a few suspense-building moments of the riff replaying, Frederiksen returned to his six-string and added another looped riff that harmonized with the first before beginning to play yet another part. Shortly after, the drums and bass kicked back in and Snere reclaimed his place at center stage by flailing on the floor like a child throwing a temper tantrum.
A new song made its way into the set and opened with such an in-your-face rock vibe that it almost recalled Pantera before Snere's shouts poured out on top of it. The band rocked a couple more songs with the same convincing fervor before leaving the stage for headliners Minus the Bear.
Being pretty unfamiliar with Minus the Bear's catalogue (I've listened to Menos El Oso a few times), I can't say I really enjoyed their set, but I was one of only a few present who did not. The crowd was the most receptive I had seen at the TLA since I was fortunate enough to catch Weezer there right before the Green Album was recorded.
The band was extremely tight throughout their set, and even if I wasn't digging the music I was digging guitarist Dave Knudson's impressive tapping technique and drummer Erin Tate's creative beats. The five-piece might not have been the most mobile or exciting guys on stage (aside from Knudson, who seemed to be rocking even when the songs weren't) but their technical prowess and tonal shifts were striking.
Minus the Bear's set may not have sold me on the band, as it seemed to border a bit too much on pop-rock and lack some necessary energy, but it seemed to be all their fans up front could have hoped for from them. Each song was met with massive applause and loving shouts. The crowd even seemed to move around more during Minus the Bear's set than they had during the louder, more aggressive acts that had come before.
It was a better than average show, but Minus the Bear are not the type of band that seem to appeal to the uninitiated. If you like their recorded material, you will probably eat up their set like the kids in Philly did, but if you don't, well, you won't.
Photograph by Zach Cross