By WHITNEY PHANEUF
Bear in Heaven
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Better than: Ghost stories around a campfire
Nice guys can finish first and, in the case of Brooklyn's Bear in Heaven, make great music. Lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Philpot may have formed the band in 2002 to get laid, get high, and get famous, but as he danced on stage in a lilac-colored shirt and polyester pants last night, he showed the sincerity of a middle-schooler grooving to his dad's record collection. Even the trio's silly name makes sense after seeing Bear in Heaven live -- nowadays, this band cares less about image and more about substance.
Despite buzz around its latest album, I Love You, It's Cool, and Pitchfork praise for 2009's Beast Rest Forth Mouth, Bear in Heaven drew a crowd of clean-cut overachievers who knew the lyrics and stuck around for a two-song encore, proving they didn't show up merely to witness the next big thing.
But Bear in Heaven band members comprised almost the entire audience for opener Doldrums, the experimental electronic project from Canadian Airick Woodhead -- think the male version of Grimes with less hype and more talent. Bear in Heaven's drummer stood alone at the foot of the stage during Doldrums' set, even taking video on his iPhone. Doldrums and Bear in Heaven were also among the crowd to watch Portland's Blouse play its moody set. The three bands are going on a camping trip together before they hit Portland on April 12.
As heartwarming and wholesome as this all sounds, Bear in Heaven could never be boring. Labeled as prog-rock, psychedelic, and electro, none of those descriptions quite fit the band's expansive sound as moved by Philpot's forceful vocals, soulful synths and layered arrangements. It takes these guys years to produce a dozen songs, so they travel far in their four minutes. I Love You, It's Cool has been described as a gentle grower of an album, and Bear in Heaven could be described as a gentle, grower of a band -- not because there isn't a strong presence and passion in its performance, but because its melodies come off as simple pop songs in sync with the light show. Listen closer and listen again and you realize there's complexity and connections in this music. Perhaps it runs the risk of sounding repetitive, but this band always sounds more like itself than anything else.
A lot of this sweet bedroom pop makes me think of the sharp edges of Brooklyn in the early 2000s: coke-bender bands led by ironic and underweight kids. Now we know most of those artists turned out to be little more than a cool haircut, and "indie" has become a meaningless marketing term. So I'll take the dorks any day, thank you.
Overheard: "I feel like I'm in a John Hughes' movie soundtrack."
Quote of the night: "San Francisco, you are beautiful. We love you. Thank you." - lead singer Jon Philpot