Flannels and Beards and Bears – oh my! No this isn’t a lumberjack version of The Wizard of Oz it was the scene of a brisk Wednesday night at downtown Norfolk’s beloved music spot, The Norva. Three bands with varied sensibilities but a shared desire to “bring it” on an otherwise chilly school night. And with so many varied genres and sub-classifications you’d think this was a homework assignment. I’ll try not to be too academic.
Opening the show was flannel-laden trio Bear Crossing. A band of local boys hailing from Chesapeake with their spirited take on their self-proclaimed style of “progressive crowd rock”. Strutting around the stage lead singer/guitarist Jason Eure mixed equal parts Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate) with a screaming Sebastian Bach. While some of the facial gestures and body thrusts verged on the realm of cheese-ball the band has a true passion for what they do and aren’t afraid to ham it up if it gets the crowd going. Music wise there are a few fun anthems full of “ooohhs” and driving riffs but they will need a few more well-crafted songs to reach the other side.
Second to the stage was the charismatic Tim Kasher, the frontman of indie rock band Cursive and The Good Life. Kasher is originally from Nebraska (a life long friend of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst) and his midwest angst sensibilities shine thru in his passionate style of simple rock meets heartache and bitterness. Playing as a solo act (with a few backup musicians) his arsenal of tunes mostly supported his first solo album The Game of Monogamy, released last October. Reportedly Kasher left Los Angeles and went north to the frozen valley of Whitefish, Montana, nestled next to Big Mountain and Glacier National Park to write and record this album. Playing almost every song off it the show was a lush and varied indictment on all things lovey-dovey. Classy lines like “I want to have sex with all my ex-girlfriends” feel surprisingly credible when accompanied by elegant strings, a melodica and trumpet. Kasher seemed to enjoy himself and put on a good show. It was certainly the most varied act of the night and while some of his lines were cliche and best kept in his personal journal the crowed seemed to love every minute of it.
Minus The Bear is a difficult band to classify. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen as the merits of pigeon-holing a band’s sound into simple, adjective-filled terminology has always been a polarizing topic. Regardless of how you feel about sun-genres, MTB’s style of meticulous yet accessible math rock is both unique and respectable in a time where most bands just want to get on the radio. There’s a level of craftsmanship in this Seattle-based quintet that you truly have to see live to appreciate. A bulk of the band’s sound is comprised of catchy melodies, finger-tap guitar riffs and unexpected time changes which leaves you guessing as to where the songs are headed. In case you’ve never seen Dave Knudson’s finger-tap technique (aka fingerstyle) it’s when the guitarist creates countermelodies by using his right hand to tap a treble melody and his left hand to play a bass accompaniment. It’s kind of strange but sounds pretty cool. And that’s a perfect metaphor for Minus The Bear. I’m not 100% sure what was going on at all times but it was interesting and gave many of their songs a sense of controlled chaos both beautiful and complex at the same time.
The band opened with a bang playing “Secret County” a funky rocker with some heavy guitar work that set the pace immediately. Lead Singer Jake Snider’s mellow vocals offer a steady calm throughout the periods of musical chaos. The band then scattered throughout their four albums. As you go through the setlist, some songs read off like a bad translation of some Japanese game shows: “Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister” is one of the best examples of guitarist Dave Knudson’s prickly finger-tap technique and the line “our girls are looking so good” reminds you that pretty much every Minus The Bear song is about hooking up with chicks. “Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!” is a crowd favorite and the band played it perfectly. “My Time” the latest single and first song off their new album has a heavy electronic influence and for my money it didn’t quite work. Things got a little too “dancey” out there and the song seemed more like a Flaming Lips parody than a serious rock tune. After a while some of the songs start to meld together if you aren’t a loyal MTB enthusiast but the band’s energy and skill was never compromised. These guys are bringing something new to the table and while it might not be appealing to everyone it is a solid effort to change up the game. I find it somewhat humorous that for such a cerebral-style of rock n roll so many of their songs are about getting laid but then that’s rock n roll for you.
Memphis and 53rd
Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister
Into the Mirror
Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!
Hold Me Down
The Game Needed Me
I’m Totally Not Down With Rob’s Alien
Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse
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