Minus the Bear: More Cowbell

Minus the Bear
Bimbo's 365 Club
San Francisco, CA
April 29, 2008

I gots to have me more cowbell.

I have found that one of the great paradoxes of music lies in realizing that artistic expression is not dependent on intelligence alone. Creating music is as emotional an experience as it is intellectual. That seems obvious, but I occasionally must remind myself of this - particularly after listening to Dave Matthews and ruing his insipid lyrics or the numbing blandness of Miley Cyrus. Of course, not all expression can be operatic in its depths of pathos and beauty but conversely neither does every Campbell’s soup can or urinal-cake merit display at MOMA. A barbaric yawp is still a yawp, no matter what Walt Whitman thinks, and similarly, a mathematical equation proving Fermat’s Last Theorem, no matter how elegant, is also not art. Still, there are times when a song just gots to have more cowbell!

When watching Minus the Bear at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, it was hard not to consider the difficulties and quick limitations one reaches when trying to define art. The band has some of the best song and album titles in music today. Some of their titles: Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse, Monkey! Knife! Fight!, We Are Not a Football Team, Thanks for the Killer Game of Cisco Twister, Lemurs Man Lemurs, Michio'a Death Drive, Highly Refined Pirates, This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic, Get Me Naked2: Electric Boogaloo. Just reading those titles makes me want to know what this band is about.
The brilliance of Minus the Bear lies in combining their abstract expressionist song titles with seemingly unrelated lyrics that reflect quiet personal observations. Their lyrics are further juxtaposed by the complex multilayered music of Minus the Bear with its unusual time signatures, unexpected chord progressions and free-flowing melodies. Though, at times, the music is overly dependent on guitar-tapping sounds such that the songs tend to blend together. This is a deficit suffered by other progressive rock outfits like Coldplay or outfits from the 1970s that first explored this territory like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis (circa Peter Gabriel) and, in some respects, Pink Floyd. Minus the Bear would do well to follow in the steps of Pink Floyd and incorporate more blues-flavored accents into their sound. Pink Floyd graduated from nearly indiscernible and unlistenable psychedelic landscapes by adding more blues-influenced guitar and piano and created some of the most brilliant artistic expressions in rock music history. For Minus the Bear, a little less scarecrow and a little more lion could make them the most brilliant act on today’s music scene. It is rock and roll after all and should be a punch to the gut as well as the head. More cowbell!

Nevertheless, in a world of countless forgettable prima donnas like Mariah Carey, plain wannabe rockers like Daughtry, and too many nondescript “R&B” artists to name, having my brain stimulated for an evening, rather than dulled by dribble dressed up like music, was more than worth the price of admission. The band has been described as a distant satellite anonymously orbiting around the music world, but recent well-received performances at Coachella and other large festivals may quickly change this. And, when the dust settled and I was driving home, I concluded that this was a tremendous performance by a deeply talented band with unlimited potential for commercial as well as artistic success- a rare combination.

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