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Minus the Bear Brings Sophisticated Sound To Legends

Observer Scene | Friday, April 18, 2008

The eclectic and unique indie rock of Minus the Bear, which has been unparalleled since their formation in 2001, is coming Saturday to Legends.

Though the most often-noted feature of their sound is guitarist Dave Knudson’s finger-tapping, their originality stretches far beyond fretboard innovation. Their music can take the form of laid-back, nine-minute jams or dance-pop, yet they never sound uncomfortable with what they play. Even when playing in sophisticated time signatures, everything is executed with precision and grace. Possessing the musical maturity of a more experienced group, their experimentation always satisfies, leaving listeners awed that such a relatively young group could be so accomplished.

The band’s most recent release, 2007’s “Planet of Ice,” marked a further refinement of their sound. The album received widespread critical accolades, receiving high marks from Pitchfork, the Onion A.V. Club, Kerrang magazine and Alternative Press. Its fine balance between pop and progressive-rock guitar wizardry, with tasteful incorporation of electronics raised eyebrows not only in critical circles, but expanded their fan base even further. From the quick, upbeat “Knights” to the extended, yet never boring, “Lotus” and “Dr. L’ling,” the group showed that progression and accessibility are not mutually exclusive. The dichotomy between the futuristic and the traditional is what sets them apart, music that you can both dance to and think about. When added to an already stellar back catalogue, including their 2002 debut “Highly Refined Pirates” and 2005 follow-up “Menos el Oso,” it is clear Minus the Bear is one of the best indie rock outfits playing music today.

Often bands of this sort are cripplingly self-serious, but yet again, Minus the Bear is atypical. Song titles range from nonsensical (“Dr. L’ling”), to tongue in cheek (“The Game Needed Me”), to Starship Troopers quotes (“You’re Some Sort of Big, Fat, Smart-Bug, Aren’t You?”). In fact, the name “Minus the Bear” itself is derived from a lewd in-joke between band members. This light-hearted nature keeps things in balance, because having fun is vital to both the band’s longevity and the enjoyment people derive from listening to them.

All these things combine to make Minus the Bear’s music perfect for the summer. The laidback songs serve as a perfect soundtrack to those lazy afternoons in the sun. Lead vocalist Jake Snider sings of driving and beaches, of girls and bars. Whether it’s the hip-hop inspired dance beats of “The Game Needed Me” or the slow jam of “I Lost All My Money at the Cockfights,” each song seems like it was made to soundtrack your summer.

So their live appearance at Legends Saturday will act as a perfect way to usher in the summer months. Appearing with like-minded opening bands Portugal. The Man and the Big Sleep on an off-date of their spring 2008 tour, this is sure to be one of the best concerts Notre Dame has ever seen. Although the openers may on first listening, recall the classic rock acts of yesteryear in their heavier, more blues-oriented approaches, all three bands on the bill share a forward-looking mindset. Taken together, this show is certain to be a guitar player’s dream, with all three acts sporting impressively talented guitarists. With the semester coming to a close, make sure you’re in attendance tomorrow night at Legends for an intimate look at three of the most original acts in music.

The show begins at 9 p.m. Saturday at Legends, and doors open at 8:30. Admission is free for all Notre Dame, Holy Cross and Saint Mary’s students. For more information see http://www.legendsofnotredame.org/club.

Contact Ryan Raffin at rraffin@nd.edu.