The progressive Seattle indie rockers return to their "home club" this weekend, Dec. 14-16, to put a coda on an impressive 17-year career.
Minus the Bear are no strangers to the road, often making two substantial U.S. tours per year. But this one is different for the Seattle rock vets who have been finger-tapping guitars for 17 years.
This summer, the progressive indie rockers announced this tour would be their last, after which the band is dissolving in order to spend more time with family and explore other creative opportunities.
“We started when I was 24, now I’m 42 and have a family and a kid back home,” said guitarist Dave Knudson, who hopes to release a solo album of mostly instrumentals next year. “It’s not like jumping in the van at age 24, 25 and not having a care in the world.”
Minus the Bear brings the tour, and its career, to a close with three sold-out shows in its hometown, starting Friday, Dec. 14, at the Showbox. After the first night sold out, Saturday and Sunday shows were soon added.
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The guys have known for at least a year that they wanted to wind it down. The announcement came after a spring tour marking the 10th anniversary (well, 11th technically) of their 2007 breakout “Planet of Ice” — the record the majority of the band considers their favorite, Knudson said.
With this being the band’s last go round, the inventive guitarist said he wants to “soak it up as much as possible.”
An October date in Philadelphia — a longtime stronghold for the band — was particularly emotional. “I saw, during the encore, a group of people crying and getting super tearful during one of the last songs,” Knudson said. “I was like, ‘Thank God I’m sweating, because I’m actually crying a little bit, too [laughs].’ ”
During the tour, the band has hosted a series of meet-and-greets and they’ve been taken aback by the stories they’ve heard, from the military friends who bonded over the band to the surgeon who blasts Minus the Bear to help him focus during operations.
“This band has meant just as much to them as it has to us, and it’s pretty cool,” said bassist Cory Murchy, his voice wavering with emotion during a call from the road. “Here I am starting to break down in New Orleans, but that’s the way it is, you know? I feel really lucky to have been able to be a part of this process with all these guys and create something that will last beyond us.”
Minus the Bear came up during the early- and mid-aughts, an indie-rock boom period in the Northwest that spawned major-label releases from Seattle titans Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie that would eventually go gold and platinum.
Minus the Bear excelled at making their proggier impulses accessible, balancing intricate guitar parts and tricky time signatures with enough grooves and alluring melodies that were easy to latch onto. While the band’s style evolved over the years, its math-rock-meets-indie-pop equation started coming into form on its sophomore album “Menos el Oso,” partially written during a short tour in Spain (hence the title).
He can’t say why exactly, but Knudson felt they gelled in a new way during that tour, marking “the beginning of the high point of the band.” “Menos” and the subsequent “Planet of Ice” are widely considered the band’s best work and became signature releases for Seattle label Suicide Squeeze, whose founder David Dickenson was an ardent supporter. “The dedication that he provided for all of us was sort of a backbone for how the band could make everything happen,” Knudson says.
After releasing two albums on Dangerbird Records that found Minus the Bear further embracing their synthier, more dance-friendly elements, the band returned to Suicide Squeeze for 2017’s “VOIDS” and this year’s “Fair Enough” EP, mainly consisting of holdover songs from those sessions. Each show on the farewell tour is being recorded for a future live album likely to include some kind of video component, Knudson says.
Though original drummer Erin Tate left in 2015, Minus the Bear’s core lineup has largely held together over the years — its members making personal sacrifices in order to keep the band going. For Murchy, that came during the band’s early days when his mother was battling cancer. Believing in her son’s dream, she insisted that Murchy uphold his touring commitments with the band during her fight, though he eventually came home to spend what would be the last week of her life together. Two months later he was back on the road, resuming a multiyear touring and recording schedule that didn’t allow much time to process his mother’s death.
“She was our biggest fan,” Murchy said. “So, being able to honor that and get where we are now, there’s no regrets. That’s a pretty heavy thing and I’ve had to deal with that.”
As these final Seattle shows approach, both Knudson and Murchy admit they never expected to sell out three nights at their de facto “home club” the Showbox — a response that Murchy said “bowled us over.” As much of an impact as the local music community had on them, Murchy says Minus the Bear was never the “cool” Seattle band fawned over by local press, even as they gained wider national exposure.
“It never felt like we were embraced by Seattle in some ways,” he said. “To be able to come home and to play three sold-out shows in Seattle, it’s like ‘Oh, all right you guys do love us [laughs].’ Thank you, because we love you, too!”
Minus the Bear, 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Dec. 14-16, Showbox, 1426 First Ave., Seattle; sold out; 206- 628-3151, showboxpresents.com