Live Review: Minus The Bear, Zefereli

7 August 2017 | 1:45 pm | Mitch Knox

"Tonight's set is a genuine treat for fans of all eras."

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Emerging from a nine-or-so-month live hiatus to open tonight's gig, local indie-pop six-piece Zefereli waste little time in shaking off their stage rust to put on a polished, enjoyable show for the early crowd here at Max Watt's.

Sure, there's the occasional missed harmony or slightly out-of-tune guitar, but these things are to be expected (and wholly forgiven) when a band's been away from the spotlight for as many months as Zefereli have. For the most part, though, the band are in charming, affable form, hitting their stride early with the infectious refrain of 54321 and synth-lined sweetness of Satisfied.

They treat us to material both new — we get to hear Chains, from the band's upcoming full-length — and old, the group making a standout effort for their debut track Once In A While. Closing on their next single, Fake Happiness, Zefereli can be proud of their comeback show; we look forward to seeing them out and about more often in the near future.

Seattle's Minus The Bear have travelled a long way to be here for us tonight. Having previously visited the country as both headliner and as a festival act, the five-piece are this time riding high on the wave of momentum afforded them by their excellent recent album Voids, arguably their strongest release since 2007's Planet Of Ice. The band endear themselves to their attentive, appreciative audience at once, storming out the gates with a bass blast that gives way to the deep grooves of album opener Last Kiss.

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It's immediately apparent, as they continue into the tight, accented Give & Take, that all of the group's members are in peak form tonight; vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider is as smooth and magnetic a performer as ever, joking and engaging with the audience in-between songs, while bassist Cory Murchy and guitarist Dave Knudson are positively enchanting to watch as they ply their formidable skills. Keys/synth lord Alex Rose gets ample room to shine too, both on his primary instrument and when he (masterfully, it must be said) takes over lead vocals on Call The Cops and Tame Beasts — none of which is to underplay the contributions of touring drummer Joshua Sparks, who demonstrates remarkable, mesmerising aptitude for the diversity of rhythms featured across the band's broad, inventive oeuvre.

Indeed, tonight's set is a genuine treat for fans of all eras. While plenty of Voids material gets time in the sun — the strutting, pensive What About The Boat? is a true delight, and Invisible draws a genuinely enthusiastic response when it appears later as a midpoint among the band's trio of encores — there are also highlights from 2012's Infinity Overhead (Diamond Lightning, Cold Company) and even 2010's synth-heavy OMNI. In fact, My Time, Into The Mirror and Excuses all work much better live than they do on record, the intended grooves and layers seemingly far more palpable and captivating in this setting (and making this writer seriously reconsider the way he previously saw that particular album).

Of course, as with most bands who have been around as long as Minus The Bear, as well-received as their newer songs have been tonight, their "classic" material — i.e. anything from 2002 debut Highly Refined Pirates, 2005's Menos El Oso and the aforementioned Planet Of Ice — receives a hearty, heartfelt response every time it pops up.

This happens across the board, such as when we're treated to early appearances by the urgent blitz of Knights and the seminal chilled jam of Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse (always a standout) as well as for later inclusions Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!, The Game Needed Me ("This next one's called Wonderwall," Snider quips beforehand) and simply buoyant main-set closer Throwing Shapes, which gets the whole room dancing in ebullient, angular style and calling for more.

They return to the stage to drop the downright sexy White Mystery, which pulls us all helplessly along into its deep, funky grind, as well as Invisible before closing for real on evergreen favourite Pachuca Sunrise, leaving us all to bask in its joyous wash as they smile, wave and depart once more. This band is truly too good for words — well, other than maybe "Please come back soon".