December 7th, 2008

Nov 2008 concert 5: Minus the Bear and Annuals at the Showbox

Two weeks ago on Saturday Nov 22, I went to the Showbox at the Market to see Annuals, who were on tour with Minus the Bear. Opening the show was Helms Alee.

Helms Alee are a trio on guitar, bass, and drums, with the guitarist and bassist trading lead vocals and the drummer singing backup. I'd heard them before on KEXP and thought they sounded interesting, so I was surprised when they turned out to be basically a metal band. The guitarist occasionally sang a bit of melody but mostly his vocals were either a low croon or hoarse screams; it was weirdly hard to hear the hoarse screaming, which was lost in the noise. In fact the guitarist's primary role seemed to be creating droning noise, while the bassist carried the melody with her playing and singing, and the drummer supported them with her impressively fierce pounding. Although the guitar noise created some hints of shoegaze the overall sound was more metal than that, and the band seemed to have only one dynamic, loud; they could benefit from more diversity in their sound. In the end Helms Alee did nothing for me, and I'm still wondering what I'd heard on the radio that was better.

Annuals released their second full-length album Such Fun in early October, and I'd been eagerly awaiting this concert to hear the new songs and pick up the new album. They played a mix of new and old songs that showed the continuing diversity and development of their style. One new song featured guitarist Kenny Florence on pedal steel slide guitar, giving it a strong country feel; another had a strong bluesy groove and ended with some of the impressive multi-player drumming that adds a lot of excitement to the live show. Unfortunately the sound mix was a bit muddy, in particular Anna Spence's keyboards and backing vocals were both often lost amidst the rest and it'd be good to hear them brought out more. Still it was a good if not long enough set, and their song "Do You Like It", retitled "Hot Night Hounds" on the album, continues to be an awesome set closer in the original awe-inspiring sense of "awesome". When I talked to Spence after the show, she promised that Annuals would be back in town on a headlining tour in February or March, and I cannot wait.

Minus the Bear are the quintet of Jake Snider (vocals, guitar), Alex Rose (synthesizers, vocals), Dave Knudson (guitar), Cory Murchy (bass), and Erin Tate (drums). They played a set of mid-tempo modern rock with occasional jam-band influences, something like a softer Soundgarden or Foo Fighters with a little Dave Matthews thrown in. There are plenty of bands I love that have a clearly derivative, familiar sound, but overall I didn't find Minus the Bear as interesting as they might have been. To me they sounded too much like a number of other late-'90s bands whose names I couldn't even call to mind, just part of the post-grunge Seattle sound.* I wanted to like them more than I actually did, they just weren't quite my style. That said, the last several songs had a little prog-rock feel to them and were all really good, including the catchy single "Knights" which I had recognized when I saw them at Bumbershoot this year. I'll be keeping an ear out for Minus the Bear, they may yet grow on me.

(*Tony Sacco, who was also at the show, agreed with me, saying "they're like settled grunge," prompting my question "is that 'grime'?")

I couldn't resist taking a few photos even though I knew the lighting was too poor and the stage too far for my iPhone, I saved three of Annuals and one of Minus the Bear starting here in Flickr.

And with that, I have dinner dishes to clean and then I'm off to the Comet Tavern to see Hotels with Tea for Julie and a couple other bands.