Minus the Bear Prepares for Hibernation

Guitarist Dave Knudson shares why the prog-rock band is saying farewell with one final tour.

Minus the Bear. Photo by Chona Kasinger

On the same day the Rolling Stones will announce a 2019 tour of North America — a trek that will find the aging rockers playing tunes that stretch back 50 years or more — Minus the Bear guitarist Dave Knudson is explaining why his band is calling it quits after nearly two decades together.

“I guess you get to a point where you’re comfortable and satisfied with what you’ve done and there are other things on the horizon that people want to explore,” Knudson says. “The touring grind of being gone for over half the year and never really letting up on that can play a detrimental role in your family life and health and your general sanity. It just seemed like a good time to hang it up and move onto the next phase.”

With six albums and numerous EPs to their name, Minus the Bear has certainly cemented its legacy as a stalwart member of the indie scene. Known for a sound that blends math rock with elements of prog and emo, the Seattle quartet is likely most famous for a pair of records they released in the mid-aughts: 2005’s Menos el Oso and 2007’s Planet of Ice.

When Minus the Bear announced their intentions to hang it up following one last jaunt across the U.S., it wasn’t because they’d grown tired of each other or lost interest in the music. Rather, it was mainly fueled by a desire to spend more time with family. (Knudson and singer Jake Snider each have young children.)

“I’m just ready to take a break and take a breath,” Knudson says. “I want to hang out with my son and just be there for him. I think he gets a little anxiety-ridden when dad’s gone.”

One thing Knudson says this last tour has offered is a chance to interact with fans.

At recent meet-and-greets during the first leg of Minus the Bear’s final tour, the stories he’s heard have really clued him into just how badly his band will be missed.

“There was a surgeon who told us that when he performs surgery, he just listens to Minus the Bear tunes constantly to keep him going,” Knudson laughs. “Then there was a guy from the Army who said he bonded with another guy in either Iraq or Afghanistan over Minus the Bear. At one point, one of them saved the other’s life and ever since then their motto has been ‘Minus the Bear is the sound of freedom!’ ”

On a local level, Knudson says Minus the Bear will definitely miss coming through the Bay Area on tour. In their early days, they could often be found at Bottom of the Hill, a gig that usually led to late-night shenanigans at the Phoenix Hotel.

“Every time we played Bottom of the Hill,” he says, “it was like, ‘OK, let’s go to the Phoenix!’ We had many a wild night there, both in and out of the pool.”

As the band gained popularity and accrued critical acclaim, Minus the Bear made the leap to the Great American Music Hall, which Knudson says “was kind of like our home for a little while.”

For Minus the Bear’s swan song in San Francisco, they’ll take the stage at the Regency Ballroom on Tuesday, Dec. 11, where audience members can expect a setlist that balances favorites like “Pachuca Sunrise” and “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” with deeper cuts intended to acknowledge longtime fans.

“We’re definitely hitting songs from every release we’ve done,” Knudson confirms. “It’s nice to be able to make sure we hit songs from all of the releases, because I know some of the fans have been with us from the beginning and so we want to make sure that something from the first EP is in the setlist. We’re trying to make it as comprehensive as possible.”

Currently scheduled to be the band’s sixth-to-last show ever, Minus the Bear’s San Francisco performance will be followed by stops in Sacramento and Portland before the tour concludes with a three-night stand at Seattle’s famed Showbox. For those who were unable to snag tickets, the band plans to put together a live album of recordings from their final tour, and is also hoping to film their Seattle shows for eventual release.

While the clock ticks ever closer to Minus the Bear’s last show, Knudson is trying his best to soak up every last minute. He has plans to spend a week in Mexico with his wife in January once everything is finished, but for now, he’s just doing his best not to let his emotions overtake him when he’s on stage.

“I visibly remember that at our Philly show, there was a group of people that were just sobbing during the encore,” he says. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Thank God I’m sweating right now because otherwise they would see some tears on my face.’ ”

Minus the Bear, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 8 p.m., at the Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave. $25; 415-673-5716 or theregencyballroom.com

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