In Bittersweet Throwdown, Minus the Bear Says 'Farewell' to Cleveland


"That's Josh, and he lives here!"

After Minus the Bear threw down an absolute heater of a final set at the Agora last night, they walked off the stage to roaring cheers and applause. Just a total, ecstatic din. My buddy Josh—and we were standing about midway up the tiered theater—he started chanting "MTB! MTB! MTB!" Reveling in the moment, a few of us around him joined in too. "MTB! MTB! MTB!" Then, a few more people. Then, waves of chanting cascades down to the pit and across the other levels of the room. "MTB! MTB! MTB!" A chorus of enthusiasm.

The ripple effect was incredible. We'd been going to see Minus the Bear for years, and, now, with just one encore left, that was all over. This was the "farewell tour," and we all knew that the band would not be coming back to Cleveland—or anywhere—after this tour. You don't often get to see a show and know that you won't be seeing that band again. (Elton John fans will feel this in about two weeks.) It's strange. Bittersweet. Memories of past tours flood the brain, and it's impossible not to give in to sort of introspection about what this means in the context of your life. It's a chapter, in a way, and now you're slipping out of a distinct era.

Sometimes, all you can do is chant. Cheer. Bellow. "MTB! MTB! MTB!"

When singer Jake Snider came back out with the rest of the band, for one last encore in Cleveland, he stepped to the mic and said, "That's Josh, and he lives here!" And I swear, it seemed like he was pointing out my friend, one of the many people who've been coming to these shows for years, and the one guy who got the roaring MTB! chant going from the start. The chapter had come full circle.

He wasn't, though. Snider, of course, was pointing to drummer Josh Sparks, who joined the band as a touring member last year and who, yes, lives in Cleveland now. The crowd cheered in support, and Minus the Bear kicked off a thrilling encore that culminated in "Pachuca Sunrise," the 2005 single that got the band closest to what one might call a degree of mainstream success.

The entire setlist was a brilliant sojourn across 17 years of canon. New stuff, old stuff. The band even released one last EP yesterday, and they played one of those tunes.

Minus the Bear has always been an extremely tight band, and they displayed that keen, agile ability to syncopate riffs and beats with aplomb last night. Highlights included "Absinthe Party...," "The Fix," the languid "White Mystery." Honestly, it was all good.

The thing with Minus the Bear is that their catalog is consistent enough to produce great setlists no matter how they shake up their song selection. In recent tours, they've really maintained a focus on the early stuff, which is just terrific. During a farewell tour, I think, too, that it's entirely appropriate and important that the band keeps the pedal on the floor with the early music that jolted them from inside joke into actual band—an actual band with a story to tell.

Snider, bedecked in long, graying beard, grooved loosely while bassist Cory Murchy and guitarist Dave Knudson flailed wildly—ever a study in contrasts, this band. Knudson was often the visual magnet onstage, swinging his guitar around like a ribbon and kneeling, almost in prayer, above his effects board. Sparks, of Cleveland, kept the polyrhythms in line with steady, eight-armed percussion work. The percussion, after all, is the heart of Minus the Bear's appeal. Was the heart, I should say.

Last Kiss
Lemurs, Man, Lemurs
Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse
Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister
Diamond Lightning
My Time
Summer Angel
Cold Company
Fair Enough
The Fix
Fine + 2 Pts
I'm Totally Not Down With Rob's Alien
This Ain't a Surfin' Movie
The Game Needed Me
White Mystery
We Are Not a Football Team
Let's Play Guitar In a Five Guitar Band

Hey, Wanna Throw Up? (guitar intro)
Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo
Into the Mirror
Throwin' Shapes
Pachuca Sunrise

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