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Reflection: Minus the Bear and The Farewell Tour

Music Blog

Reflection: Minus the Bear and The Farewell Tour

Hannah Murray

by Hannah Murray, February 21, 2019.

In December, I was fortunate to attend the SOLD OUT Minus the Bear show at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. It was part of their FAREWELL TOUR, celebrating the retirement of one of my favorite bands, and a group of musicians I have the honor of knowing personally. In my life, it marked the end of an era and presented a perfect moment to reflect on my history with this band, life, some of the things that change, and some things that don't. 

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Some of you may be wondering why Minus the Bear might matter in my life, being a mostly classical violinist these days. 10 years ago, I wasn't just a classical musician, in fact, I regularly performed, recorded, and toured with non-classical ensembles, commonly referred to as bands. At the time I was playing in a band called THEMES that was based in Minneapolis but relocated to Portland, where they live to this day. We use to rehearse several times per week and hang out together. I really enjoyed these people. They became very dear friends of mine, and I recorded several songs with them. At that time in my life, I had played in only one other band, and the genres were entirely different. The change was fun and presented a whole host new of names and sounds and people to learn about and appreciate. I was a full-time music student, so my nose was often buried in music scores, and history textbooks. I was very naive about the genre of indie rock and liked that my friends could teach me new things and expose me to new people and sounds. I met so many interesting people and creative individuals during that time, and I had also recently been exposed to touring and was thirsty for more.

THEMES planned a tour of the Western States for the fall. The plan was to tour out to the west coast where we would meet up with their friends Minus the Bear and open for them and The Annuals for the first two weeks of their national tour before going our separate ways, finishing some recording, and playing a few smaller venues. I thought this sounded fun and was eager to explore and perform in a bunch of new places. This was also the largest tour I had ever been on – most venues holding 2000+ people.

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Our first show with MTB was at Washington State University in Spokane, WA. It was an expensive college set up with brand new equipment and facilities, and I felt instantly spoiled and out of place. It was the first time I had ever met MTB and their crew, and they were immediately welcoming. Over the next two weeks, we hung out with them every day. It is difficult to describe the dynamics of touring to those who have never been on tour before. All I can really compare it to is summer camp; You form intense and close friendships and make a ton of unforgettable memories in a short amount of time, and these people become permanent fixtures in your life for years to come. This is true of every summer music camp or festival I have ever participated in, and every tour I've ever gone on as part of an ensemble (classical or otherwise). Tour life, especially when you are not on a tour bus can be incredibly stressful. We were touring in a van, which meant that often we were finishing a show, loading out our equipment and gear, driving part way to the next venue if it was super far away, sleeping for a few hours, then getting back on the road, loading into the next place, doing sound check, playing a show, hanging out for a little bit then repeating the whole process over again. It is a delicate ecosystem fraught with emotions and stress, and too much time trapped in a car with the same people for days on end. Some people are really well-adjusted to life on the road, some are not. It is hard, but it is also incredibly fun.

THEMES band photo, taken in 2008 by Kris Drake

THEMES band photo, taken in 2008 by Kris Drake

That tour was hard on THEMES, it was cold, the drives were long, and often through snowy areas in the dark. We were tired pretty much all of the time, but the friendships we created and fostered with MTB, the Annuals, and all of their crew were genuinely sustaining. It was a delight to arrive at a venue and hang out with them. They took care of us, making sandwiches for the road (thank you Cory), inviting us to use their bus as a place to revive ourselves and relax, and standing up to bossy sound people and venue staff who were trying to push us around because we were "lesser" as the opening act. Over time, these lessons in humanity and being decent to everyone have really (hopefully) stuck. They were excited we were there. In the eyes of the "talent," we were not lesser. They watched our set every night and cheered for us after their favorite songs. That whole-hearted support and enthusiasm from colleagues is something I've learned you have to hold onto in this profession. It is not the rule, and it is also an attribute that should permeate this industry. I try to keep this in mind regarding my peers and their projects.

Minus the Bear during the Planet of Ice tour, 2008

Minus the Bear during the Planet of Ice tour, 2008

At the end of that tour, I felt like I had gained so many new close friends. Over the past ten years, I've seen MTB perform several times. They always graciously put me on the guest list (one time I brought my mom, and they put her on the guest list too, AND she went backstage and hung out on the tour bus with everyone), spend some time with me, and catch me up on things that are going on in their life. Every time I think (without a hint of animosity) that they may have forgotten who I am,  which would be entirely reasonable because they have friends all over the country who surely deserve a spot on the guest list more than I do, without fail, they graciously add me to the list and welcome me backstage. This may seem trivial, but it means so much to me. To be remembered and included by musicians who you respect and admire so much, conjures genuine feelings of value.

I still love listening to MTB; They are my preferred driving music ESPECIALLY when I'm tired, or it is late at night. They make excellent road music, traveling music, and sing along (terribly to) tunes that are lyrical and hard-hitting. Jake has one of my favorite voices, and I am reminded of it every time I turn on their music. “Planet of Ice” is still my favorite Minus the Bear album, but that may be nostalgia-induced from the tour, or maybe (probably) it is just that good. It conjures wonderful memories and colors my drives with crooner psychedelic colors and feelings as if I should take my scarf off my head and hold it up, into the wind as I cruise through the golden plains in my convertible. I don't know why, but this is how Planet of Ice makes me feel. Alex told me recently that the whole band was listening to a lot of Pink Floyd at the time…I think I can hear that.  I know I'm not the only one out there who loves this album. Perhaps my very favorite song – and I know I'm not alone in thinking this – is “Pachuca Sunrise” from the “Menos El Oso” Album. As far as songs go, this is top five favorites across the board. If I had to make one playlist to listen to for the rest of my life, I can guarantee this song would be on it. It is almost always the encore and was the very last song they played on this tour (at least in LA). Before they came back on stage to play a few encores, I was actually pretty upset and borderline offended that they didn't play it. I would have been close to devastated if they had played their last tour without including that song. 

Backstage with Alex and Amy after the Farewell Tour show in LA, 2018

Backstage with Alex and Amy after the Farewell Tour show in LA, 2018

I went to the show with my pal Amy, who I met on the “Planet of Ice” tour all those years ago. She sold merch for MTB. We have kept in touch and have a  friendship that exists outside of the world of tour nostalgia. We had a great time singing and dancing to the songs and retelling fond memories of time on the road. THE FAREWELL TOUR marks the end of an era, but I am so happy I had the opportunity to meet these people and this music. In the words of Cory Murchy:

Keep Going.