On a brisk November evening, the Doug Fir was in that advanced state of sold-out where the entire basement lounge becomes a sea of jostling shoulders. Packed tight was a multitude wishing to revisit the splendor of the early Aughts, most notably and more particularly to celebrate a special anniversary: release of Minus the Bear’s debut LP Highly Refined Pirates, now approaching 10 years old. If the Doug Fir were a vessel, the heady, massive and largely bespectacled wine of a thirtysomething-year-old vintage was haphazardly sloshing over the brim in draughts of maturing concertgoers who clearly had no trouble securing babysitters that Tuesday night. They had even less difficulty getting shitty-faced and singing along to “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse.” During sound check, a crew member played a few licks of Steve Miller or some other deficient ’70s act, as That Girl Sitting On the Stairs™ got repeatedly whacked in the head by purses and attendee chub and otherwise acted as a second railing for support whenever a pair of drunken heels slipped down the steps.

Openers the Velvet Teen received a warm welcome from the audience. The four-piece math-and-baroque-space-pop ensemble forged a set appealing to its roots, with both acts garnering the same number of attentive listeners, enthusiasts and starry-eyed admirers, young(ish) as well as old(er). The Santa Rosa outfit pulled from all three of its LPs (Out of the Fierce Parade, Elysium and Cum Laude!), employing standouts and crowd favorites such as “Chimera Obscurant,” “No Star” (from the recent No Star EP) and “Noi Boi,” as well as a few tracks expected to be included on their next record. Truly one of the few bands on earth still committed to a late-’90s and early ’00s percussion-heavy but poppy Radiohead-lite sound, they slipped easily into the rounded-mouth, mumbled vocalizations, jangly guitar, lolling consonants and dueling instrumentation they’d played around with in the past decade, while also employing piano, handclaps, shakers, pre-programmed bits on laptop and other elements fairly new to the Velvet Teen as a whole and sure to make space on the so far untitled new record. Vocalist Judah Nagler, a mop top haircut adorning his head, helped the band spin through almost a dozen songs from their discography, his falsetto matched by high tones on the keyboard and a little fret-picking on the part of guitarist Matthew Izen, all of it underlined by rapid-fire percussion from drummer Casey Deitz.

Minus the Bear entered with “Thank You For Being A Friend” blaring on the P.A., their Velvet Teen compatriots standing off in the back row hollering in support. Vocalist-guitarist Jake Snider and bassist Cory Murchy, having long lost their tousled, early-indie-era locks, both sported full, messianic beards and long hair. Pulling largely from the recent Planet of Ice and Omni era for their first five tunes in advance of delving into Highly Refined Pirates, the latter was definitely the highlight for the crowd, which lit up palpably as soon as the opening seconds of “Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco® Twister” could be made out beneath the waves of applause following the previous disco beat-heavy but surprisingly flat rendition of “Fine +2 Pts.”

With Murchy slashing on bass, guitarist Dave Knudson picking high up on his fretboard with mathematical precision and Snider provided gentle strumming, keyboardist Alex Rose set the pace with quick-stepping tones out on stage left. Occasionally random headbanging among Murchy and Knudson would break out, to the crowd’s eternal, vocalized pleasure. And if headbanging was a crowd-pleaser, the instantly recognizable opening notes of “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” sent the audience spinning in verifiable gratitude, even if Knudson was not able to keep up on the fret board in such a nimble fashion as the track requires. Transitioning between the album’s higher, excitable peaks and more subtle, subdued midsection, the audience kept interest high with shouts of “yar!” batted around the lounge and plenty of geeky outbursts of limbs and fists whenever, as on “Women We Haven’t Met Yet,” Knudson and Snider pulled beautiful song-sharing duties on guitar, matching each other in hyper chord progressions.

Naturally, the crowd picked favorites from among the many tongue-in-cheek lines delivered in seemingly throw away style by Snider, most particularly “Our girls are looking so good” from “Thanks for the Killer Game,” “We’ll drive around the lake/ Just a little too fast” on “Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!” and the (obligatory) drawn-out “Heeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” that opens “Absinthe Party,” as well as the repeated refrains of “Two-star hotel/ Hotel” it contains. Sequestered away in the back, drummer Erin Tate provided the percussive spine that Knudson hung his triangular, math-rock chord progressions on, both of them never breaking concentration for a second, even unto the final seconds of Highly Refined Pirates, the cymbal crash-heavy closing of “Let’s Play Guitar in a Five Guitar Band” leading into the instrumental “Booyah Achieved.” The still packed-tight audience, channeling their younger, scrappier days, was appreciative to say the least of having heard an album that’s become a bit of an icon in the decade since its release. The boys from the Velvet Teen near the merch table even clapped their hands off at the headliner’s bows. If there’s one thing that this Minus the Bear and the Velvet Teen show proved, it’s that even mellowing Aughts heavyweights can draw large crowds, and are still unafraid to rock the fuck out when necessary.

by Joe Clinkenbeard

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