Saturday, October 28 at Plush
You know it's a party when Catwoman and Ryan Gosling show up—not the real Ryan Gosling (or the real Catwoman for that matter), but a reasonable facsimile. It's the Halloween show season, and it's time for people to get dressed up as fictional characters and go to shows. Seattle's Minus The Bear showed up to the party as a rock band, though everyone knows they're a dance-pop group with better guitars. Omaha's Cursive showed up as a sensitive indie rock group, but everyone knows they're a post-Fugazi post-hardcore punk/singer-songwriter fusion of confessional, confrontational songs.
San Antonio's Girl In A Coma came as a three-girl punk band, but everyone knows they're a sleek mix of rockabilly and classic rock, with the occasional touch of Smithsy beauty.
Not that the bands were really in costume, but much like the music behind them, it spoke a lot to expectation versus reality. The narrative threads that tie the bands together can be boiled down to this: we all go through our own versions of hell, and we can all relate because the experiences are so universal.
Up first, fighting the PA at times for clarity, was Girl In A Coma, the newest of the three bands in terms of existence. But the type of brutal/pretty push/pull power-pop or pop-punk they do so well has been around long enough for people to get the idea. Lead singer and guitarist Nina Diaz's right arm is emblazoned with a tattoo of a Telecaster, broadcasting her love with both music and her role in this band. You have to be in love, to make songs that are so purely hopeful and unironic as "Hope" and "Adjust" from their newest album, Exit Signs and All The Rest. Fueled by a bad-ass rhythm section—Jenn Alva on bass and Phanie Diaz, Nina's sister, on drums—Girl In A Coma pick their favorite punk tropes, apply their own favorite—Morrissey, Joan Jett, Patsy Cline—and create a rattling indie rock that seduces and destroys.
Second on the roster are aging former Fugazi-style punks Cursive. Actually, calling Tim Kasher a punk is like calling Morrissey some depressed guy. Kasher is the lead singer and creative force behind Cursive, and what he and the band do is take broad emotional concepts—disillusionment, disappointment, anger, fear, pain—and write them in the sky in blood. Their albums deal in varying degrees of autobiographical lyrical content, tackling suburban alienation ("Happy Hollow"), growing up and finding out life isn't a fairy tale ("The Ugly Organ"), and marital discord ("Domestica"). Painful subjects, and seemingly not ripe for the singalong treatment, but that's Cursive's specialty. Crowd-response favorites included the pure unadultered angst of "Rise Up! Rise Up!," and the sickly, self-deprecating "Art Is Hard." The set featured some great cuts from a wide swath of their albums, which happily included "The Radiator Hums"—quite possibly the finest song ever written about divorce, from their 2000 album "Domestica." Cursive has undergone major style shifts from album to album, adding and subtracting horn sections, violins and keyboards over the course of the past five records, but somehow all of these myriad flourishes were covered by touring multi-instrumentalist Patrick Newbery, who played trumpet, organ and pretty much anything and everything. That allegiance to the sounds created in the records tells you all you need to know about Cursive’s dedication to their fans—they recreated even the dissonant violin/cello bursts of “Gentleman Caller,” because they know the song calls for it and the fans expect it. Kasher was even appreciative of the surroundings, pausing for a moment during their dozen-song set to take in the view from the stage of the nearly sold-out Plush. “Nice establishment you’ve got here,” he said. For a band that deals in the languishing death of the American Dream (evidenced by their set-closing “Dorothy At Forty”), they seemed genuinely surprised both by the crowd’s size and its tenacity.
Last but certainly not least is Seattle's Minus The Bear. It's really hard, as someone who writes about music, to classify exactly what Minus The Bear is. Are they a dance-rock band with better guitars? Are they a rock band with danceable songs? Who got their peanut butter in my chocolate? Whatever you want to call them, they serve up memorably funky tunes and the crowd on hand at Plush knew all the complicated grooves, including those few brand-new tunes from their just-released full-length, Infinity Overhead. But the classics still ruled: "Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse," from their 2002 debut Highly Refined Pirates (besides being the best song title Minus The Bear has ever come up with), is definitely their most popular tune, which is why it was kind of shocking that they dropped it so early in the set.
Regardless of sub-genre classifications and marginalia, the crowd that showed up for Minus The Bear was there to party. If one had forgotten that the show preceded Halloween by a few scant days, one could be mistaken in thinking the show was a mini-ComiCon worth of nerdy extroverts who just came to have a good time. The band was obviously the main attraction within this set of three big bands, standing at the corner of Synth-Pop Ave and Indie Rock Boulevard, and eliciting both non-stop dancing and non-stop smiles among the amassed faithful. The immediacy of their songs encourages a blissful loss of self, so the whole set is a solicitation to submerge oneself in drinks, nostalgia and the mundane details of our shared lives. In response, the audience fervor for the band is almost at the level of jam-band devotion, eliciting shout-along sing-offs and the fevered dancing mostly seen at Schwagstock. Plush briefly became the fairgrounds for a carnival of celebration; there was even a wandering waitress serving ice cream cones and French fries, as well as a pair of beachballs flung into the air at the show's climax, putting the cherry on top of the carnival-like celebratory atmosphere. Band and crowd reached perfect synergy, letting loose like the end of the world was approaching. And who knows, it just might have been, though the celebrating crowd at Plush would have been hard-pressed to acknowledge that the world outside even existed.
by Jason Robinson