★★★½ (out of 5)
Brooklyn-based Bear Hands are inextricably tied to their more famous counterpart, MGMT, for a number of reasons. Chief among those is that they play the same kind of music, but also because the two bands' frontmen went to college together. Bear Hands also used to open for MGMT.
But where MGMT’s grooves have a highly futuristic, dance-hall-ready feeling, Bear Hands’ are a little looser and, in a way, more cerebral. Their lyrics, for one, display a twisted kind of wit that continually surprises and makes you laugh while you’re scratching your head.
Take, for example, “Julien Donkey Boy,” with the lyrics “Julien, where are you?/donkey donkey boys/are sold for fifty at the market.” Lines like that are made even funnier by the seeming seriousness and drama of Dylan Rau’s nasal yelp.
On the other hand, songs like “High Society” (with the lyrics “I’m engaged to be alone”) that extol the virtues of being single have the power to bore into your head. It’s the just the kind of lyric you find yourself turning over and over in your mind, and even repeating later in conversation—and not crediting the source.
Bear Hands played both of those songs on Wednesday night, as well as other notable cuts from their 2010 album Burning Bush Supper Club, such as the pace-shifting, emotionally evocative “What a Drag,” (“I’m dreaming of your goddam long nails”) and the slinky, infectious hook of “Crime Pays,” (“Everybody knows that crime pays/and everybody does it/I am just sticking to my work”).
The drummer played most of the night with a drum stick in one hand and a maraca in the other; the bassist often added percussion, banging on the tom-tom when he wasn’t using his axe. However, it seemed like the band were mailing it in. By the end of the show they looked bored and seemed like they almost couldn’t wait to get off the stage. Despite that, they did respond gamely to calls for an encore, playing an early Nirvana song as well as their own “Long Lean Queen.”
The simple fact is this: they took the stage after 11 p.m. on a rainy, cold Wednesday night in Indianapolis, after two electrifying and lengthy performances by opening acts Pomegranates and Vacation Club. Unfortunately for Bear Hands, it seemed the openers had already sucked the life out of the mid-week crowd by the time they got to take the stage. The night peaked at some point while Pomegranates were on stage, and there didn’t seem to be a whole lot left for Bear Hands to work with.
Let that not besmirch the fact that Cincinnati-based Pomegranates put on a dynamite performance, with long-haired, elf-like frontman Joey Cook bouncing all over the stage and singing in his high-pitched, almost girl-like voice. Using fast bass lines, eighth-notes on the high hat, and an elegant, swirling, '80s guitar effect, they came off sort of like U2 meets the Cure. They were powerful and totally rock, but with a new-age feeling; this was especially evident on songs like “Skull Cakin” and “50’s”.
Indy-based retro garage-rockers Vacation Club opened the night up with a raucous set that featured lead singer and guitarist Sam Thompson continually flopping over to play guitar on his back. While his legs kicked up in the air, bassist Brandon Jackson popped a bass string (dangerous stuff) and had to borrow a bass, mid-set, from Bear Hands’ Joey Cook.