Review: Minus the Bear at the Ritz Ybor
Minus the Bear might be one of the most soothing prog acts in history. And because a word like "soothing" isn't one you generally associate with progressive music of any kind, consider this a compliment in the highest form.
In front of approximately 900 smooching, swaying fans, the Seattle quintet delivered a sleek, mathy 90 minutes of music at the Ritz in Ybor Wednesday night.
A friend astutely described that it "looked like three different versions of Jesus up there" when the bearded, floppy-haired fellas hit the stage. Not ones for chit-chat, Minus the Bear opened with Drilling (which seemed a bit muddled before some sound bugs were worked out) and followed up with a fluid Knights from Planet of the Ice. Even when the group went off on a jammy tangent, it felt warm and reassuring.
New single My Time was more poppy and funky, a direction the group chose for much of its latest release, OMNI. Pitchfork gave the album an ouchy 3.5 stars (likening some material to bad Maroon 5), but the crowd seemed to react quite positively to the new additions. As the group commented on WMNF's "Sonic Detour" earlier that afternoon, much of OMNI was intended to put a spring in the step of fans attending the live shows, not to please critics.
The seductive Pachuca Sunrise, my favorite of the evening, was complemented perfectly with warm, reddish stage lighting and incited lots of the aforementioned smooching.
Again, here's where Minus the Bear injects the prog or experimental sound with a new vibe. You don't see make-out sessions at a Rush show, for instance. Not that I am saying Minus the Bear has the technical talents of a Rush or a King Crimson, but the band certainly draws some of the best qualities from those prog fathers. Sprinkle in melodies reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie, and you've got some of the formula.
The group closed with Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse. People sang emphatically about "two- star hotels" and clapped along to the propulsive beat. The bass player gave the crowd a thumbs up at the song's end, just as he had done after nearly every song in the set. It became the unifying symbol of the night in a sense. (The band even had a t-shirt at the merch table devoted to the "thumbs up.")
Lastly, something needs to be said for the Ritz itself. It seems the venue has become the place for the big indie shows. Over the last few months, the Ritz has been host to Of Montreal, F---ed Up and The Arctic Monkeys, and the draws have been solid (if not sold out) at each. The venue is well-maintained, well-air-conditioned and well-staffed - from bartenders to bathroom attendants. These are the little things, but they all point to a promising future for the Ritz.
-- Carole Liparoto, tbt*