Bear Mountain are a four piece working double duty, as each member had a Korg, Akai, or Macbook on their plate alongside their primary instrument. Singer Ian Bevis wailed in a high-pitch range and slapped his bass, coming off like a side project of Aaron Neville and Grizzly Bear. Right away, you could tell that they could take off with a few spins on XMU but maybe were not getting the reaction that wanted from Santa Ana. With a vocal style so distinct and prevalent, they immediately turned away half the crowd, but the quick bass and poppy guitar kept the heads bobbing. Anyone lost seemed to hop back on board during their solid cover and update to "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," feeding into the Tears for Fears comparison even harder.
The man in the back in charge of some of the computer portions, Kenji Rodriguez, played a flaming red keytar with a straighter face than the instrument deserves. Drummer Greg Bevis gripped his Vic Firth sticks firmly while rolling his snare and beating his Roland while guitarist Kyle Statham strummed his gorgeous black Fender. The band used their extremely small space well, dancing and jumping more than most dare attempt on the diminutive playing space. The crowd took awhile to turn toward the jump up and down crows the band was looking for, but Tuesday night shows in the small room are as tough as they come. The last two-thirds of the set blended into one another, leaving little time for the feeling to fade.
The track "Two Step" was probably their strongest, maybe because it didn't have the jarring vocals mingling with the syncopated audio. They are dubbed as an electronic dance band on the Internet, but it didn't come across that way until this track. They did their best to warm up a pretty stiff crowd and definitely ended better than they started.
Nick Thornburn has the type of fiery individualism that moves his band forward, not unlike a Trent Reznor. He is the heart and soul of the band, moving the pieces around as he sees fit to mold his live performance and studio needs. You can hear this in his albums, see this in his rotating touring lineup, and feel it in his stage presence. He teeters on the side of embodying the rock and roll struggle of a singer-songwriter one moment while acting a fool and playing with a photographers camera the next. In the live arena, the excitement lies in never quite guessing what the next move will be or if the next piece of banter will be funny or mean. But when the music kicks on and his heartfelt lyrics are on display, there are few more genuinely funny, pensive, and accurate as Thorburn.
The Gordon Brothers (Evan on guitar/keys and Geordie on bass/keys) don blue button-up shirts, rolled-up long sleeves, blue jeans and a brown belt motif, with one going slick back on the hair and the letting the curls run wild. The neo-honky tonk vibe fits well in Thorburn's anachronistic musical world, where whatever works works, conventions be damned. They stand at each side of the stage like an angel and devil in this musical trip, playing the string sections needed when Thorburn grabs the microphone and serenades the crowd. Drummer Adam Halferty is new to the crew, but kept up nicely, especially on faster tempo tracks like "Hallways" that take some considerable skill in keeping the frantic timing. He sits so high on his kit, his waist well above the cymbals, giving him a ton of velocity with which to crash down upon his drums. Drinking a a couple bottles of Stone IPA during the set is definitely the way to get in the groove of the set and his stick work was solid all night.
The band he has assembled is more than flattering for his message, they are stellar, especially Evan Gordon on the keys and guitar. His ivory skills are killer and added way more than just layered context to both newer and older tunes. The brothers even switched for the last few songs, with Geordie showing off some of his guitar skills.
The set opened with "Wave Forms," the same way Ski Mask does. The majority of the set was the majority of the new album, but the older tracks thrown in were fairly surprising, including the guitar opus and opening track "Swans" from their debut album dubbed Return to the Sea. The band effortlessly switched tempos between the softer side of Islands and the more upbeat, including a vulnerable version of "Tender Torture," a beautiful love song off of Vapours.
This must have been an odd set for the band to play: nearly 70 minutes of new and old material to a crowd of maybe 300 mellow people. They are playing the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock tonight and that's one show that the band has been actively hyping, so last night's Observatory show felt more like a warm-up than it should. These guys have played festivals and Thorburn has fronted half a dozen bands by this point, playing just about every corner of the both America and Canada, so a stop in Santa Ana for a young crowd probably didn't register too high on the important scale. That said, the show was still stellar for any Islands fan in attendance and the crowd left fulfilled, hearing a great mix of music faithfully reproduced and infused with Thorburn's subdued yet eccentric personality. He tends to dismiss his prior work and focus on whatever new material he has out, so hopefully the motivation will continue to write and record for many more years, as his style and sense of poetry is unlike anything else in modern music.