As we saunter into Max Watt’s with the kind of confidence that only a moderately well-funded Saturday night can offer, the doors have been open for the better part of an hour already, yet the room is only sparsely occupied. Bad omens aside, we hope Brisbane pulls its collective fingers out and turns up for Seattle indie/math-rock stalwarts Minus The Bear this evening. Some of that famous Aussie hospitality wouldn’t go astray, you know? And with that in mind, we get right down to business, aka ‘crushing some tins’.
When dream-pop group Zefereli takes the stage, they do so as a sextet; their sound bolstered by booming percussion and layers of reverb and synths. Vocalists Alistar and Clea strum their respective guitars while alternating on the hooks, hitting soaring highs and subtle, whispered verses, accentuating their unique blend of folk, indie and pop stylings. The band works through old favourites like ‘Stupid Goodbye’ and ‘Satisfied,’ with its polka-flavoured synth lead, while recent numbers like ‘54321’ from their ‘Withdrawals’ EP get a few “woops” and applause from the punters at the bar. With the subpar stage lighting doing its best to provide a convenient and impromptu halo, Clea enthrals onlookers with her pigtails and Russian-bride jacket combo, delivering a delicate and sultry vocal performance.
There’s a little bit of everything on offer here from Zefereli tonight: the call-and-response songcraft of Angus and Julia Stone; shades of Slowdive’s instrumental meanderings, the occasional taste of Holy Holy’s melodies; in all, it’s a very strong showing for the local act, as the crowd slowly but surely fills out the room. Between song banter centres around the band getting hit up for door spots at tonight’s show and new songs from their yet to be released album (which they’ve apparently been crafting for some time) like ‘Chains’ and ‘Fake Happiness’ sound promising indeed. Hopefully, the rest of the album follows suit.
With a brief interlude of booming hip-hop over the PA, Washington natives Minus The Bear calmly enter the stage to appreciative applause. The room has noticeably filled out and while it’s certainly not packed by any stretch of the imagination, the dedicated few here in attendance know what they’re about to witness and are suitably pumped for it. The five-piece punch through a massive 18-track set list that spans well over an hour, doing a solid job of sampling their well-regarded back catalogue. Recent album ‘VOIDS’ gets the most attention, with ‘Last Kiss’ acting as the evening’s opener, followed by cuts like the punchy ‘Give & Take’ and the stop-start dynamics of ‘Tame Beast’.
Guitarist and lead vocalist Jake Snider takes up position on the right of stage, dealing out playful licks and buttery croons, supported deftly by keyboardist Alex Rose. Botch alumni Dave Knudson flings his guitar around with reckless abandon while his fingers practically dance across the fretboard, as his signature pedal-driven attack cuts through the mix like a knife. Fan favourites ‘Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse’ and ‘Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister’ from their classic record ‘Highly Refined Pirates’ are an absolute joy to watch; we witness people in the crowd letting their inhibitions go, dancing around with their eyes closed and soaking up every blissful note.
Turning back the clock, Minus The Bear proceed to work through tracks from 2010’s dark-horse album ‘Omni,’ featuring the smooth movements of ‘My Time’ and the grand composition of ‘Excuses’. Making sure to include some of their infamous, bang-worthy slow jams, cuts like ‘Into The Mirror,’ Call The Cops’ and ‘Planet of Ice’ stand out ‘Knights’ set the vibe with sensual synth lines and Snider’s innuendo-riddled lyrics. We’re also very pleased to hear cuts off 2012’s fantastic ‘Infinity Overheard,’ with the massive, sing-a-long chorus in ‘Diamond Lightning’ and Cory Murchy’s thumping bass in the crescendos of ‘Cold Company’.
It’s during ‘What About the Boat?’ that we notice the drum mics bobbing up and down with every rhythmic push from touring drummer Joshua Sparks, hypnotically floating on waves of energy like lyrics of the track suggests. Finally hitting some ‘Menos El Oso’ material, Minus The Bear barrel through a frenetic take on ‘The Game Needed Me,’ before announcing the dancey ‘Throwin’ Shapes’ to be the last track of the evening. But the crowd doesn’t buy it for a second, and barely a minute goes by before the band returns to deliver a three-track encore.
‘White Mystery’ is peak Netflix-and-chill material, while ‘VOIDS’ lead-single ‘Invisible’ confirms the group’s knack for super-catchy hooks. And then, in perhaps the best choice of closing songs, the shimmering summer bliss of ‘Pachuca Sunrise’ washes over everyone in the room. Think good vibes and happy thoughts, and we’re pretty sure this track plays in the background somewhere. The house lights go on, the crowd disperses, and we exit Max Watts on a high with a smile on our dial. Not too bad for a Saturday night after all!
PC: Daniel Neucom.