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Concert Review: Minus the Bear

Concert Review: Minus the Bear

Minus the Bear were a half-serious but seriously-talented band, not the kind of group to weep over.

Roseland Theater, Portland, OR
12/13/2018

(Photo: Peter Hutchins)

It’s hard to trust a breakup. It seems that every band that has ever split up seems to get back together, from the polite hiatus (Sleater-Kinney) to the bitter (Pixies), and even bands adamant that a reunion would “desecrate the grave” have changed their mind (Stone Roses). When Seattle emo/indie darlings Minus the Bear announced their Farewell Tour, culminating in a two-night goodbye in their Seattle hometown, you could practically hear the sound of a million music nerds’ side-eyes. “They’ll be back,” they thought, mentally blocking out the weekend of Chicago’s Riot Fest 2028 for the inevitable reunion show. However, no matter what, you must treat any so-called farewell tour as an actual death.

It’s tough to write about a live show performed by a band that will have ended their run by press time; this is more of a eulogy. Luckily, it would be absurd if Minus the Bear’s show was anything less than great. The penultimate city on their Farewell Tour, it would be a complete rip-off if they phoned it in – and they knew it. For the crowd in Portland, it was likely to be the very last time anyone in the room would get to hear these songs in concert, and the ravenous crowd hung on every single song with the kind of desperate strength that only comes from being forced to say “goodbye, for real.” Each and every song from their sprawling set was met with rapturous applause, a sound that never got old.

There was never a lull in energy, and despite a moment or two of technical difficulty (as frontman Jake Snider reminded us, “This is live fucking music!”), the two-hour, career-spanning set felt like it couldn’t get any tighter. They touched on every single album, from their beloved Highly Refined Pirates (the focal point of the setlist, along with sophomore effort Menos el Oso) to a momentary nod to Fair Enough, this year’s final EP. The more recent material felt like afterthoughts, taking up just three songs of the 25-song set, and while that could be a sign that the band lacked confidence in them, it felt fitting to devote as much of the set as possible to songs like Pirates banger “Spritz!!! Spritz!!!” and They Make Beer Commercials Like This EP classic “I’m Totally Not Down With Rob’s Alien” or Planet of Ice’s “Knights” – in other words, the songs that people have had rattling around in their heads for at least a decade.

The wisest decision the band made, though, was letting the show feel like any other show, rather than forcing it to be the send-off it actually was. The band still spent their set cracking wise and breezing through songs at a breakneck speed. Keyboardist Alex Rose kept the spirit as goofy as it should have been by peppering incredible/terrible riddles such as, “How do you make holy water? You boil the hell out of it,” and “Why does a moon rock taste better than an earth rock? It’s a little meteor.” He gently issued a request to the more joke-savvy members of the crowd: “I’d appreciate it if you know the punchline and you keep your mouth shut.”

“After 17 years of this band, what we’ve learned is that time is relative,” Snider said towards the end of the show – and even though he was speaking about the end of his band and reflecting on how fast-and-slow time can move, their impending breakup lacked the emotional heft that other bands might have inspired. The band have, since their breakup announcement, talked about how truly crazy it is that they’ve managed to play for nearly 20 years from something that started as an inside joke about blowjobs. Yet their brand of comic, emotional indie-emo has meant so much to so many people. As they blasted through an all-killer encore that pitted “Hey Wanna throw Up? See Me Naked” against “See Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo” before ultimately spiraling into Menos el Oso’s indisputably-flawless “Pachuca Sunrise” – perhaps the best song they could have closed on – it became obvious that the sorrow of a true farewell was largely absent. Minus the Bear were a half-serious but seriously-talented band, not the kind of group to weep over. That made their final bow in Portland maybe feel a little less potent, but a lot more perfect.

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