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No Lab Coat Necessary: The rock and roll experiment that is Minus the Bear 

Minus the bear brings their invisible trampoline sideshow to Bend.In the four or so years that I've been listening to Minus the Bear, I've always

click to enlarge Minus the bear brings their invisible trampoline sideshow to Bend.
  • Minus the bear brings their invisible trampoline sideshow to Bend.
Minus the bear brings their invisible trampoline sideshow to Bend.In the four or so years that I've been listening to Minus the Bear, I've always envisioned them as wearing white lab coats, all the time. On stage, in the studio, eating a grilled cheese sandwich - always in the white lab coats.

 
The Seattle band is often considered one of the premiere "experimental" rock bands in the U.S., which is the tag that first caught my attention, and also instilled the lab coat image into my brain. Minus the Bear bassist Cory Murchy doesn't wear a lab coat, or goggles, and, like the other four members of his band, shouldn't be cast as an Emmett Brown-like madman, tweaking massive amplifiers in a cluttered basement laboratory.

"Ultimately, we're just a rock band and making music that we're going to be excited about playing in the next couple of years." Murchy says before a show in Tucson as the band's tour heads west for an appearance at Indio, California's Coachella festival.


"We like to push ourselves musically and artistically. So if that's experimental, then I guess that's a fine way to put it," he says.

Last weekend's Coachella performance was the band's second stop at that festival. Minus the Bear is also part of the ultra-eclectic Bonnaroo lineup in June, which seems to further the band's reputation of appealing to a spectrum of listeners much broader than the throng of emo and indie rockers that one correctly expects to worship at the band's altar.

The familiar rock assembly of the band is what might first catch a listener's ear, but it's the complexities of the quintet's sound, which is marked by high-tech layers of keyboards and samples, that keep people coming back. The band's latest release, Planet of Ice, is the mark of a band that seems to be increasingly aware of its ability to challenge rock and roll conventions.

"We do put a lot of thought into it. Most of the time, there's always a reason why that [sound] is going to be played in that spot and this is played there," Murchy says.

Some might think of "experimental rock" as the off-the-air TV static squeal produced by a couple of emaciated hipsters turning nobs on a Moog keyboard while an overly eye-linered chick in hot a pink leotard screams into a microphone as she dumps buckets of Jello into a bathtub full of brightly colored machine parts. That's not the case with Minus the Bear; the band is actually melodic and rhythmic enough to get even the most emo-rific crowds dancing.

"It's not your 1-2-3-4 pop song, but at the same time, we're not reinventing the wheel either," Murchy says of the band's approach to songwriting.

All in all, the "experimental" tagline that's often applied to Minus the Bear is perhaps more of a distraction than anything - a description that keeps some would-be listeners from realizing that the band is making fresh and challenging rock and roll music in a modern arena that's often crowded with too many identically sounding (and looking) bands.

Some of which may actually wear white lab coats.

Minus the Bear, Portugal the Man, The Big Sleep
7pm doors, 8pm show Tuesday, May 6. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $16/advance, $18/door.
Tickets at Ranch Records and ticketswest.com.

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