Minus the Bear / As Tall as Lions - live in Farmingdale (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Minus the Bear / As Tall as Lions

live in Farmingdale (2009)

live show

It was the unofficial Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! Tour with Minus the Bear, As Tall as Lions and Twin Tigers making up this three-act circus at Long Island's Crazy Donkey venue. (My ideal version of this tour? Polar Bear Club / Lion of Judah / Tigers Jaw...make it happen, B9.)

Twin Tigers clearly had a fetish for Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine, but their male vocalist/guitarist had this sharp voice that was way too jarring for what they were going for. I think they could be the next Silversun Pickups if they could figure out how to mesh those vocals with the swirling atmospheres better. I was kinda into the last song, since it had these pounding guitars that helped pronounce their foundation more noticeably, but again, those vocals were not doing it for me.

As Tall as Lions was next, and they're a band I've always been pretty wishy-washy on despite my persistent bias for Long Island bands. They came out to a smooth, relaxing jazzy number punctuated by actual trumpet (see, MTB keyboardist Alex Rose seemed to have every little nuance pre-programmed for their set, so something extra performed live would go a long way for any band). My cousin would eventually comment to me, "They're like the lounge band of indie," and it seemed kinda accurate. There were all these little dynamics I would expect to bubble up during their atmospheric alternative/indie interpretation, but they'd never really come. ATAL didn't convince me here to give their albums another shake, but it was a pleasant set despite some patches of somewhat boring verse. They were received with enthusiastic cheering, but it must've just been hometown support -- during the actual performances, some crowd members danced, fewer sang along, and when vocalist/guitarist Dan Nigro tried to incite a Kings of Leon-esque "whoooa-ohhh" call-and-response in one song, the try fell embarrassingly flat. Nonetheless, it didn't deter their steadfast musical prowess; the band was rather loose and energetic, and the tunes were free-flowing yet precise.

What the lion's share of the crowd had clearly come for, however, was Minus the Bear. It had to be the band's first Long Island appearance in years, while the reception was interestingly mixed: emphatic sing-alongs in sections of the crowd, but mostly just modest and polite dancing in place.

While the band was looking pretty grizzly at this particular stop of the tour, no one was hairier than vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider. Dude looked like he just got kicked out of Fleet Foxes. I was worried that between all that extra weight and past tendencies to do so, the dynamics of the older material would be settled and reared back. The last few times I've seen the band, I remember this happening distinctly, but it thankfully wasn't the case here. "Let's Play Clowns" and "Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse" killed it, and well, if it was played, "Drilling" probably would have too.

The band seemed to carry a little restraint in playing around with their songs, overall. Encore closer "Pachuca Sunrise" had a naturally extended ending, as did a bridge in "Dr. L'ling." But the band never went into ridiculous, noodly territory, and in fact, those extensions were never really about showmanship, anyway. Guitarist Dave Knudsen was doing enough of that, anyway, doing his usual fingertap show for everyone to see. One of the few times he wasn't flailing about the fretboard, he was providing a second set of keys for an unreleased new song.

And speaking of new songs, they're cool. I've heard one criticism saying they're nothing new for the band, but Rose has a noticeable hand in these, a more distinct personality in them with weirder synth tones that'll imaginably establish some hallmarks on the band's next LP (slated for an early 2010 release). And the aforementioned unreleased new song will imaginably be the first official single to have a video shot and radio/TV push -- it's got a hook that's undeniable.

There was a slight something missing from the band's set, but that's an emphatic slight. Maybe it was a need for a more uniformly engaged and excited crowd which, you know, isn't really the band's fault. It was otherwise worth the two years I've been waiting to see the band live again, a predictably engaging and career-spanning set from one of the PacNorthwest's most talented family trees.

Set list (10:18-11:21):

  1. Knights
  2. Dr. L'ling
  3. Memphis and 53rd
  4. Throwin' Shapes
  5. Into the Mirror [new]
  6. White Mystery
  7. Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!
  8. Ice Monster
  9. Broken China [7" B-side]
  10. Let's Play Clowns
  11. new song
  12. The Fix
  13. Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse
    Encore (11:22-11:32):
  14. Spritz!!! Spritz!!!
  15. Pachuca Sunrise