On Friday, February 6, Seattle indie rockers Minus the Bear played to a packed house at Northern Lights in Clifton Park. As a testament to their wide, but non-mainstream appeal, the audience was a mix of dedicated followers and suburban youth of all forms. This was the third in a four-show mini-tour of the east coast that the band took in support of the first singles off their upcoming LP, to be released in May.
Chicago-based four piece Maps and Atlases opened the show, demonstrating an impressive technical mastery of their instruments while maintaining an approachable indie-pop sensibility. Bearded frontman Dave Davison sang in a not entirely unappealing nasal tone, reminiscent of the Decemberists or the Weakerthans, but with a deeper register. The band’s sound was primarily supported by the very creative approach of drummer Chris Hainey, with support from the folksy-yet-technical staccato of the two guitars. While their performance was well-received, in many ways it lacked the energy that characterized the following two acts.
Maps and Atlas were followed by Saratoga natives Phantogram. A two-piece group whose sound far exceeds their size, their first full-length LP was released this month on indie-rock powerhouse label Barsuk Records. Primary singer Sarah Barthel sighed her breathy vocals over layers of keyboard, synth loops, and Josh Carter’s heavily modified guitar sound. The duo was very well received by the continually growing audience, helped at least in part by this being an increasingly rare hometown show. While their set was broken up by one or two uncomfortably long tuning breaks; the audience did not appear to mind in the least, as indicated by the sea of movement as they played some of their more danceable songs. Phantogram will be continuing on tour throughout February supported by video created by RPI alumnus and grad student Blair Neal.
Minus the Bear took the stage exactly at 10 pm and kicked it off with the classic track “Drilling.” The set was mixed primarily from their two earlier LPs, Highly Refined Pirates and Menos El Oso. Atmospheric, yet energetic songs such as “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” interspersed with highly danceable tracks like the “The Fix,” taking the audience on an emotional roller-coaster while singer Jake Snider illustrated stories of sex, drinking, and vacations to distant beaches. It is hard to encounter Minus the Bear in any context without falling in love with the lush imagery of Snider’s lyrics, who manages to evoke far-off island paradises even in a packed sweaty venue in the middle of February. At times the energy even brought out the occasional crowd surfer, to the visible chagrin of the band. The complex guitar play between Snider and guitarist Dave Knudson was as strong as ever, with Knudson’s signature tapping technique and unique loop-augmented playing style showing through even despite some mid-set technical issues. Lasting for just about an hour, the initial set ended on a strong note with Knights off their 2007 album Planet of Ice. The band was quickly coaxed back on stage for a two song encore, featuring “Spritz!!! Spritz!!!” and arguably their most well-known song, “Pachuca Sunrise,” taking the audience to a Mediterranean beach one final time before releasing them back into the cold upstate winter.