All words: Jeb Gavin — All photos: the Internet
Just to confirm: are we sure Bear in Heaven isn’t some sort of elaborate, possibly comic homage to Cutting Crew? I don’t necessarily mean that’s a bad thing, but their over the top antics were in stark contrast to the Black Cat’s Backstage, which they played Tuesday night, it made it seem as though the show was a prank staged by the band.
Let me set the scene for you: three Brooklyn hipsters on a stage two feet off the ground, in a room that holds 100 people tops, with smoke machines, backlit to make their shadows stretch out and up over the audience, and behind that a series of LED bars growing like bamboo in the background, flashing green and pale pink and red and mustard, all the colors of a Patrick Nagel painting. Between the set dressing and the vamping, the singer and bassist/guitarist just needed trench coats and Flock of Seagulls haircuts and I would have been in no way surprised had they cranked up a little “Died in Your Arms Tonight”.
Again, I can’t stress this enough: I like Bear in Heaven’s music. Their particular brand of emotionally earnest synthpop really resonates with me, rich, delayed baritone vocals over echo-y, open sounding drums with keyboard lines woven around and between the two. If you didn’t know better, you might think they played very slow, meaningful live drum and bass. Their longer jams were marvelous, bass lines unwound allowing breathing room in otherwise tightly regimented songs. The crowd was appreciative, dancing and swaying along, particularly during these extended breakdowns.
But their more rigid songs, their earnestness intensity of the band was the very thing that made them seem ridiculous. They’re in a dingy room back behind the downstairs bar at the Black Cat. It’s a hell of a space for up and coming punk bands, for electroclash noise acts, even for a big pile of folkies who want to be up close and personal with their audience. The arena-rock moves and stage show Bear in Heaven brought with them felt antithetical considering the depth and intensity of music normally considered sheen-slick and shallow.
Truth is, I’m frustrated with myself for even noticing a disconnect between the space and the show, the show and the music itself. In a less claustrophobic, sweaty space, on a different night, every part of this would come together without effort. No one would need dip out for a break from the heat, or otherwise they’d tough it out, just to see what comes next. Perhaps this one is on me, bereft of whatever sense I was born with so as to not nit pick penny ante bullshit. Long and the short of it: Bear in Heaven make good music, but their stage show is just one step beyond. At least, it was Tuesday night.