When I first saw Minus the Bear, it was the fall of 2005, the band had just released Menos El Oso, and I was trying to impress a girl.
The downside is that I lied when I said that I loved the band – typical teenage guy bullshit. Because I honestly had never heard of Minus the Bear at this point in my life. Luckily, she suggested we listen to the new album on the way to the gig. We both lived in Keizer, Oregon at the time, so it was a solid hour or so drive up to the Hawthorne Theatre in Portland.
On that drive, I was exposed to sounds I hadn’t yet heard in music – poppy, groovy, but also incredibly mathy and still on the fringe enough to make me feel cool for listening to it. I was blown away and I kept saying things like, “oh, I love this part,” even though I had no idea what I was saying – truly like an idiot. Geez, masculinity is a trip to get over. But, it was good prep for me to feel like I was ready for the gig.
It was also my first time in the Hawthorne Theatre – a venue I would eventually inhabit many times for various gigs from August Burns Red to Lydia to Anthony Green to The Bled. And eventually, I would play the venue twice with my own band – which was wild.
After that gig, I was hooked – and I have kept up with Minus the Bear ever since. I even learned that they are fellow Pacific Northwest peeps and that one of the founding members was in Botch! So, the band became a regional badge of honor for me as I navigated learning more about the music world.
So when the band announced an anniversary tour for their 2007 album, Planet of Ice, I was hype because I hadn’t seen the band since it headlined the spring concert at Oregon State University in 2010 – shortly after I wrote a stunning review of the 2010 album, OMNI.
So I was eight years out from having seen the band live – which felt like an ETERNITY!
And when the Boston date for the tour swung around, I was ready to go.
Planet of Ice is hailed by many Minus the Bear fans as the band’s opus, while I have always held that my favorites were Highly Refined Pirates and Menos El Oso – certainly a product of holding the first exposure to a band as my favorite, something I hate when others do it, but am a hypocrite when I do it.
The gig was opened by the fantastically flamboyant and bizarre all-femme punk rock trio, The Coathangers. The Boston bros who came out to just chill and listen to Minus the Bear were very turned off by the antics on stage during the whirlwind of exchanging instruments, punk riffs and rage, and the occasional squeaky toy. But I was loving every second of it! Sadly, I even heard a dude say, “Thank god they’re done.” And I turned around and gave him a look that can only be described as “I will not have any of that attitude this evening, sir!”
Eventually, Minus the Bear hit the stage and thus began 48 minutes of nostalgia for a crowd that was screaming every single word to every song that singer, Jake Snider calmly and coolly sang as though it were ripped straight from the record. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about Minus the Bear gigs – Snider’s delivery is so laid back that when people are yelling along to the songs, I often just revel in the juxtaposition of emotion.
I definitely had my moments of over-excitedly spewing lines throughout the night – like “What have you done? What have you done? What HAVE you done?” during the opening track, “Burying Luck.” One of my favorite songs off of the album is “Knights,” where it’s recorded nonchalant nature is amplified greatly in the live setting. It sounded so huge careening off the walls and ceilings of the Royale – I yelled, “a piece of you, for a piece of me” because I hadn’t been able to do so in years.
As the band progressed through the album, it was becoming abundantly clear that this album is truly special to so many people. So many people turning to each other saying things like, “this is my favorite on the album,” “no, this one is my favorite!” That’s the sign of a good album – when it can hold up so well after a decade and still have this sort of impact on its fanbase.
While the band played “Throwin’ Shapes” I started to realize it was the closest song the band has gotten to reiterating their approach to the catchiest song (arguably the most popular as well) they’ve released, “Pachuca Sunrise,” off of Menos El Oso. I’m not sure if that was the intention all those years ago, but it came to my mind while listening to them play it – I was like, “oh, this feels very familiar to me.” But perhaps that’s also true because I’ve spent 11 years with this album.
The entire night felt familiar and I just relished in that feeling – especially as this was a needed break amid a busy life.
Planet of Ice was the band’s true exploration into instrumentation and mind-song jam sessions – “Dr. L’Ling,” “When We Escape,” “Double Vision Quest” and “Lotus” all feature song tasty breaks of just sheer domination. And yes, those last three songs close out the album – demonstrating how essential the balance of this album plays out – it may be top heavy with the more straightforward tracks, but it comes down with so much exploration thereafter. And truthfully, I wasn’t fully aware of how crucial these jam moments are to the band’s live performance, because these are the moments worth cherishing. The dudes in the band have clearly played these songs for years and they still absolutely rock out as if they were brand new to them.
The thing about Planet of Ice is its perfection amid its conciseness. It’s not a long album and even for the amount of experimentation that the band exhibits throughout, each piece is essential to the success of this beast of an album. And as the band launched in the closing track, “Lotus,” I simply closed my eyes and just swayed to the brilliant atmosphere of that 9-minute closer.
But that wasn’t the end of the gig! The band wound up playing an entire other set of jams from their other albums – which, I sort of expected would be the case, but I have been to a few of these anniversary tours and the band usually finishes up when the album ends. Not on this evening! We got nine more songs – including the jam, “Hooray,” a personal favorite from Menos El Oso, as well as the bubbly single, “Last Kiss,” from last year’s VOIDS album. I was excited that one of the few songs they chose was another personal favorite – this time off of OMNI – “Secret Country” is a stunningly huge song in a live setting so it was enough for me to truly feel like the night was a treat.
For the longest time, I’ve convinced myself that Menos El Oso is my favorite album from the band (the encore even concluded with “Pachuca Sunrise,” as everyone expected). But honestly after this gig, I was reminded that I’ve been wrong for over a decade. Planet of Ice is the greatest thing the band has released to date.
I say that not to invalidate the band’s body of work – because each release has its own life and its own highlights and brilliance. While VOIDS took a moment to grow on me, I now feel like it is the band’s best work since Planet of Ice – I say that as a big fan of OMNI, which was the follow up to Planet of Ice. OMNI gets very little love because of the immense reaction and affection fans have for Planet of Ice, but just like how I had to get over my rose-colored glasses for Highly Refined Pirates and Menos El Oso, I hope other fans have gone back to appreciate all of the band’s albums as I have.
In a time where many bands are doing anniversary tours for heyday/opus albums released decades ago, some artists are clearly doing it for money or to capitalize on nostalgia. Yet, this tour felt very special because the band not only brought resounding energy for fans to truly celebrate an album that means so much to them, but they gave us an entire EXTRA set. What a wild night of Crisco twister, man.