The house lights drop. More than 1,500 people scream at the top of their lungs. Shadowy figures ghost around the stage, led by small handheld beams of light. The apparitions of Minus the Bear take their positions before the first four twangy chords of “Steel and Blood” split the darkness. Swelling waves of music roll over the crowd like a tsunami of light and sound. Piercing beams of red and blue punch through the masses. Ear-to-ear grins are only broken to shout back the lines to each chorus. This moment could pass for an encore, yet the show’s only just begun.
Progressive indie rockers Circa Survive and electronic indie-rock heroes Minus the Bear packed out The Paramount in Huntington Tuesday, March 19 in support of their Waves Overhead tour. The night was filled with crowd-pleasing high-energy sets from all—though I did regrettably miss Minnesota indie darlings Now Now due to a traffic jam on the Sagtikos Parkway (luckily I’d already caught them two days earlier in Poughkeepsie, where they killed). None disappointed at The Paramount—a show to remember, indeed.
The first three songs of Minus the Bear’s set—“Steel and Blood,” “The Fix” and “Secret Country”—were knockout punches, one right after the other and ignited a frenzied uproar among the sea of 20-somethings hoisting each other into the air and crawling on top of each other like penned animals.
Epic roto-tom hits from drummer Erin Tate on “Secret Country” boomed over the crowd, just before lead singer Jake Snider repeatedly shouted the line, “We forget where we are!” atop the ebb and flow of its conclusion.
The crowd clapped on-beat to “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” before lead guitarist Dave Knudson let loose, the notes glistening and sparkling to rival the dazzling glow of blue, red, purple and yellow lights behind him.
Not a single member of the band sat still through their entire set. Bassist Cory Murchy remained in a state of constant motion before flashing a stern thumbs-up to the crowd in-between most songs, a gesture always returned by the fans on his side of the stage. Murchy head-banged like a madman, flipping his stringy hair before sauntering from the front to the back of the stage, hammering out the most fluid and dynamic bass lines of the night and heading back to the crowd for another firm thumbs-up.
Knudson’s movements were like a haywire windup toy, his ridged head bopping from his tower-like stance almost enough to distract from his delicate guitar work. Knudson preferred to play his solos directly to the crowd; standing, oftentimes, right on the edge of the stage, eyes closed, with fans grabbing and reaching for a piece of the action.
“There’s something emotional and human about [performing],” Snider told me between sips of Jack Daniels in his Paramount dressing room just after Minus the Bear’s set.
Just as he emptied the bottle we were interrupted by a knock at the door. A short brunette poked her head into the dressing room holding up a fresh bottle of the good stuff.
“Oh yeah,” Snider told her. “Amen, thank you so much.”
He paused for a moment to admire the bottle, and after collecting his thoughts, resumed.
“It’s kind of a tribal thing, playing music in front of people. You kind of want to connect with [the crowd] on some level and I think that when you’re enjoying it… I mean obviously, that’s going to be the best.”
Two thirds of the way through Minus the Bear’s set, a figure in a black hoodie rigged up another microphone on the right side of the stage before vocalist Heather Duby, backing vocalist on the band’s latest studio album, Infinity Overhead, joined the fray.
Duby filled out a stunning three-part harmony with keyboardist and backing vocalist Alex Rose on “Into the Mirror” and “Toska,” a song Snider says is his current favorite to play live.
Two slam-dunk songs off their second studio album, 2005’s Menos el Oso [Spanish for Minus the Bear]—“Pachuca Sunrise” and “Drilling”—finished the set, leaving the audience reeling.
“Drilling” positively electrified the crowd. Some red-faced fans screamed every word while jumping with their fists clenched in the air and radiating beaming smiles. The not-quite-punk, not-quite-emo kids applauded too soon, exposing the casual Minus the Bear fans that were unaware of the band’s fondness for the “fake ending.” “Drilling” faded out and resurrected twice before the band ultimately left the stage to a roar of applause and the house lights.
“It’s all a part of the dynamics of our songs,” Murchy told me during a pre-interview from his tour bus just before a show in Burlington, Vt. on March 14. “You want to try and use those to really try and catch the listener. Makes for a good song, ya know?”
“One more song!” some shouted.
“Four more songs!” screamed others.
From the perspective of the balcony, fans below resembled a stormy swelling ocean, ebbing and flowing with black t-shirts and hoodies, bleached hair and side bangs rolling and cresting to the sonic avalanche of sound. Watching this celebratory swirl made me realize just how much a venue can impact the performance.
Just two days prior, similar waves of kids sporting homemade neon green spray-painted scribbles proclaiming “Circa Survive” waited for the opening act in the packed, tiny The Chance, tucked between large warehouses in downtown Poughkeepsie. DIY punk rockers bashed and convulsed their way around the floor throughout the night, though the scene was less a group ocean of teenage celebration and more a stone-cold gaze supplemented with a handful of loose cannons who just wanted to thrash. The crowd had little to no room to make it even to the bathrooms, let along organize a mosh pit like that inside The Paramount.
The grime on the walls of The Chance stands as testament to the more than 40 years of live shows it had endured; battle scars worn proudly like a soldier after a triumphant war. Ancient Egyptian sarcophagi adorn both stage walls and watch over the crowd occupying a two-tiered floor area below.
Now Now’s set that night began with two girls strapping on their Fender Telecasters and a guy with the pompadour to end all pompadours sitting behind a drum kit. The crowd gave them the obligatory applause as they tuned up their amplifiers and positioned their Macbook.
“No bass?” shouted someone from the crowd over the first few bars of the outfit’s first song.
After long it was clear that the band’s supplemental tracks would provide more than enough bass for the three-piece.
“We had [a bassist] a long long time ago,” Now Now’s drummer Bradly Hale told me backstage at The Paramount, as thunderous bass from the show boomed and echoed through the backstage lounge. “I record all the bass parts and it’s a lot of effort to teach someone all the parts and it’s hard to find someone you’re cool with being around for this long.”
The applause rose as the set progressed, singer/guitarist Cacie Dalager letting her fluffy brown bangs cover her eyes after tossing her black beanie to the side of the stage, echoes of Kurt Cobain’s signature “Cousin-It” look.
The inclusion of a backing track allowed the band to incorporate notes well below the standard low-E of a four-string bass—low moans bellowing from the onstage sub-woofers on stage and rattling the walls; less of a sound and more of an intense vibration.
Dual female vocals and hypnotizing harmonies gave their set a soft touch that set them apart from their all-male touring mates.
“I don’t feel like a female-fronted band at all,” Dalager told me from her perch atop a kitchen counter backstage at The Paramount just after Circa Survive’s set. “We have girls in the band, but the band started with Brad and I, and so in my mind, we’re just a duo, now a trio. The only time I really notice it is sometimes we’re on tour and I’m like, ‘Whoa, we are literally the only girls on this tour.’ But I don’t ever think about it other than physical number of people on a tour.”
Now Now exited The Chances’ stage to thunderous applause. Somewhere in the sweaty adolescent chaos, the kid who couldn’t understand a band without a bassist surely applauded, too.
As I leaned on the railing of The Paramount’s mezzanine section and looked out over the crowd, I couldn’t help realize the shared connection between the kids packing The Chance, just two days earlier, and those here, now, unleashing their fury and devotion to the same bands, the same songs, for the most part, the same show. The two sets of fans were the same, I thought, but also different. Those before me now are Long Islanders—a dedicated breed that sacrifices sleep on a work night for a few hours of pure, unbridled rock and roll.
And although Circa Survive sat at the top of the billing for this tour, Minus the Bear could have been as well—their set gave crowds at both venues simply sheer electrified sonic thrill. What a magnificent pairing.
Crowd surfers climbed and were tossed to and fro throughout the sets at The Paramount. Large men in highlighter-green shirts lined the barricades, catching airborne fans hurled too close to the talent.
With 1,555 adoring fans screaming in unison, it was hard to distinguish Circa Survive’s lyrics from the mouth of the singer from those of the audience, or make out even what the first three songs were. Singer Anthony Green’s sterling tenor eventually won that battle, beaming out of the speakers and inspiring riot-like conditions on the floor.
“When we started the band, Anthony and I started it together and it was a dream-come-true really,” Circa Survive’s lead guitarist Colin Frangicetto told me over the phone from his tour bus in Stroudsburg, Pa. three days after the Paramount gig. “I always thought he had one of the coolest voices I’ve ever heard.”
The mass of reaching arms and outstretched hands evoked visions of a zombie herd a la The Walking Dead as Green stalked the front of the stage, gripping his mic with both hands out to the crowd and swaying like a rock-and-roll snake charmer.
One fan is successful in slipping around a bouncer and reaching Green just after being carried about the crowd like a rag doll—the kid’s grin sure to not come off any time soon.
Green’s super-sonic voice combined with Frangicetto’s on-point guitar work and the band’s thrashing rhythms making for a much bumpier ride than the mellow swells of Minus the Bear.
“The Long Island show was fantastic,” Frangicetto told me. “Super-high energy you know, just really—when you’re on stage at that place it’s just, there’s nothing b-market or half-assed about it, it’s just a real amazing rock and roll show at a venue that is gorgeous.”
The night, like any great rock show, was not with out incident, however.
Circa Survive stopped abruptly in the middle of their set, as bouncers swam toward a handful of fans in white tank tops. Others pointed to one man in particular, mouthing, “Him, it was him.” A short girl with bleach-blonde hair stood amid the fray, mascara running down her face as a man stood over her trying his best to ensure she was okay.
The scene caught the attention of Green, who began to try and mediate the situation from the stage. As he asked what happened and squinted to try and see into the crowd, the soggy-eyed girl faked a smile and flashed a thumbs-up. Her mouth formed silent words resembling, “It’s okay—just an accident.”
“Just an accident?” Green boomed through the PA. “Aw, it’s okay. You come to a rock show, you’re gonna get popped now and then.”
With that, the band started up where they left off. The crowd resumed their punk-rock acrobatics and three of the bouncers stood their ground in the sea of adolescent angst.
The joy and the love that filled The Paramount that evening was palpable. The smiles and shouts of celebration filled the room with light and joy that rivaled the volume of the music itself.
This is rock music at its finest. This is a Long Island rock show. This, truly, is a night to remember.