all words: Jesse Young
all photos: PHOTOLEER
Gibson Guitar Showroom’s loft space is generally the kind of place you want to spend a Friday night, unless you hate fun. Now that it’s warm enough to make real use of the outdoor patio, the place has the feel of a big early-summer house party with all your slighty-affected hipster best friends. Every show
I see that it seems to draw crowds composed of similarly cheery, enthused kids, imbibing liberally and dancing adorably. This evening in particular showcased a trio of acts from New York-based independent label Cantora Records, who are perhaps best known for releasing MGMT’s first EP. Cantora remains the home of some of Brooklyn’s best up-and-coming rock acts, and the guys at All Things Go put the show together in yet another of their increasingly awesome bookings around town.
Because I suck at life, I missed Emil & Friends’ short opening set. Slam Donahue followed, brandishing their brand of bouncy sing-a-long guitar pop. Just three dudes on bass, drums, and guitar, the band plays charmingly uncluttered arrangements that occasionally recall the Violent Femmes or some other band that you like. Singer and guitarist David Otto favors big, bright guitar chords underneath his vocals, while the band’s rhythm section steadily churns out spare (but dancey!) beats. While their studio work features a bit more electronic color, as a live threesome, they’re a warm wash of guitars.
Just as the beer started to run out and everyone started aggressively swilling the remaining hard liquor, headliners Bear Hands finally took the stage. In the interest of full disclosure, Bear Hands got their start at my alma mater, the Middletown, Connecticut indie rock spawning grounds of Wesleyan University, so I’m immediately predisposed to dig their stuff. All disarmingly nice guys, the four men of Bear Hands released their first full-length album last fall, Burning Bush Super Club, and they’ve built a commendable head of steam surrounding the release since then.
The band opened their set with the simmering slow-build of “Wicksey Boxing,” almost dirge-like in its minimalism. The band didn’t stick solely to its recorded material: a surging, up-tempo new song, “Giants,” had the entire room moving. Bear Hands can do chugging dance rock as easily as they can more-sedate material, making for an eclectic set. These guys leave a lot of space in their songs, preferring to let individual instruments breathe and reverberate.
There’s a palpable tension in Bear Hands’ show, as the band strains against its sometimes terse, atmospheric compositions, only to punctuate them with cathartic rapid-fire bursts of guitars and keys. Lead singer and guitarist/keyboardist Dylan Rau is all intense, coiled energy, his gaze cast continually downward as he sings. Guitarist Ted Feldman is the model of restraint – he prefers to delicately encircle melodies, providing texture and gentle color where someone else might embrace power-chord bombast. From slide guitar flourishes to occasional stabs at a sample pad, Feldman offered up the kind of instrumental range you’d except form a band with such an elastic musical sensibility.
After the band wrapped, the crowd gradually dissolved into a sputtering dance party. Bear Hands loaded their gear for a ride up to Long Island, where their next gig at a Hofstra University festival awaited. The denizens of the Gibson Guitar Showroom, on the other hand, left well-sated – and probably a little tipsy, too.