Recap: Cursive and Minus The Bear at Upstate Concert Hall

Last night’s show at Upstate Concert Hall reminded me the importance of taking advantage of opportunities to see bands play live both in different places, and when possible, again. In my opinion, a good live music performance is also adaptive; the location, venue and crowd can all influence a touring band’s performance and consequentially, your experience. Essentially, what I’m advising is to try to avoid using “I’ve already seen ’em play” as a reason not to see a band again. You could be pleasantly surprised regardless of what your experience was the first time around.

I saw Cursive play at the House of Vans in Brooklyn just over a month ago, and I also saw Minus The Bear the last time they played in Clifton Park back in 2010 with Maps & Atlases and Phantogram. Going into the show, I had hopes of hearing the songs I’ve been listening to for years, as well as some new tricks and I wasn’t disappointed by either band in that. Cursive played a much different set than when I saw them in the city, though I can’t quite place my finger on how so (perhaps the difference between being a supporting band versus a headlining band?) but either way it was great to catch another refreshing performance from them.

Hit the jump for the rest of my recap and be sure to stay up with Step Up Presents and keep an eye on their fall schedule here.

I arrived just as Caspian was finishing their set, which was a disappointment as I haven’t heard their music, only their name. With a quick turnover between acts, Cursive, who have been at it beginning in 1995 with only two brief hiatuses since then, took to the stage just after 8:30pm.

From the second the band assumed their positions on stage, they began powering through song after song before settling in and actually addressing the audience and you couldn’t help but wonder when exactly Kasher was going to pause to take a breath, let alone say a hello.

Their set began with the opening track off their recent I Am Gemini album, “This House Alive,” which kicks off their 13-track conceptual saga regarding the tale of two twin brothers, Cassius and Pollock, with other references to the zodiac sign of Gemini scattered throughout. The individual songs on the album also do stand on their own, allowing Cursive to mix up their set list and draw from their full catalog. Regardless of material new or old, Kasher is first and foremost a performer — he wants to build theatrical moments, both with you and for you, while also having a (at times subtle) blast on stage. Tim Kasher, we know you’re having fun.

Highlights from their set included “A Gentleman Caller,” which had the audience chiming in, as well as, “Warmer, Warmer,” “The Casualty,” and one of my personal favorites from the new record, “The Sun and Moon.” Other tracks from their set included “From the Hips,” and “Art is Hard,” which definitely turned the mellow crowd into a responsive one. The band capped off their set with Kasher saying, “Our name is Cursive and as always, the pleasure is all ours. Enjoy Minus the Bear, and allow us to get out of your hair, in a second here,” and promptly exited following “Dorothy at Forty,” which had the audience chanting for one more song.

Minus The Bear stepped up next as headliners and the mood instantly shifted from the low-key swaying daze of a spell Cursive had cast over the crowd to people beginning to dance before the first chord struck. Minus The Bear is a bit of a hybrid; taking influence from electronic dance music and guitar-heavy instrumentals, all with an indie rock flavoring. The band can be spacey at times, with washed-out synths or droning guitar riffs, but all without managing to lose the crowd’s attention and still keeping the energy high.

Minus The Bear began their set with a new one, “Lies and Eyes,” off their latest Infinity Overhead, which sounded just like I remembered their old material being like, so I didn’t realize it was new until after the fact, especially since I haven’t listened to them in a couple years. MTB then dug into their old catalog, which I recognized, playing, “The Game Needed Me,” off of 2005’s Menos El Oso, and “Throwing Shapes,” off of 2007’s Planet of Ice.

The five-piece incorporates two guitars, synths, two vocalists, a drummer and bassist, and their layered sound builds, similar to acts who utilize live looping to help inspire dancing amongst the crowd. What I’ve always appreciated about Minus the Bear, and the composition of their songs, is that the vocals have always been clear and polished, without getting buried in their sound, regardless of whether live or recorded.

Highlights from their set included, “Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse,” off of 2002’s Highly Refined Pirates (which was the first album I listened to from them), “Into the Mirror,” and “Empty Party Rooms.” At some point, huge balloons filled with confetti were thrown out into the crowd, which was fun to watch from a distance. The light show was great up close, with the stage being completely washed out in hues of green or blue, helping to set the mood behind the music. However, the further back you went in the venue towards the bar and merch table, the more intolerable the lights were. Blinding, blinking white lights reminiscent of an over-produced Skrillex concert killed the vibe for me and I ended up sneaking out after the band played “Empty Party Rooms,” and “Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo,” with a slight headache.

Despite being in the game for so many years, both Cursive and Minus The Bear still got it. It’s great that the new material, from both bands respectively, feels evolved without either straying too far from their distinctive sounds. Keep listening.

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