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Blast of the Past: Redbone marries a 1930s musical aesthetic to 1970s hipsterism.

Booyah Achieved

Minus the Bear ditch the goofy song titles and get serious

By Alan Sculley

It's true, Minus the Bear's drummer Erin Tate is tired of talking about the group's reputation for injecting humor in its music. On the group's early albums, the subject was unavoidable—that's what happens with song titles like "Pantsuit . . . Uggghhh" and "Hey, Wanna Throw Up? Get Me Naked"—but those infantile times started changing almost as soon as the laughter started dying down.

"We were seen as this kind of jokey band, and we've never really been that way," Tate says in a recent interview. "We've always taken our music very seriously and taken things very seriously, but it's not the way things were coming across. We just wanted to take a turn toward, 'Hey, listen to our music as opposed to talking about our song titles.'"

In fact, Minus the Bear are making some of the most intriguing and category-defying music of any band today. The band's songs have always had hooks, but the melodies on the recently released Planet of Ice, the group's most developed and focused effort yet, are more angular, built around intertwining guitar riffs and keyboard lines. It wasn't long into the recording process that the word "epic" started coming up.

"There was a general feeling of not being afraid," Tate says. "I just feel like every year that goes on we get more and more used to playing with each other, and we got more and more used to what we want out of our music as a band, collectively."

Planet of Ice exemplifies this progression with a more grandiose feel, thanks to extended tracks such as "Lotus (v2)" and "Dr. L'Ling." Previously, Tate and guitar wizard Dave Knudson had been the band's primary songwriters; for the new album, however, songwriting turned into a true team effort. "I feel like the record is way more cohesive and way more put together because of that," Tate says.

Although new material makes up a good chunk of the band's current live set, Tate stresses that Minus the Bear aren't ignoring their back catalogue on this tour. "We wrote a couple of different sets, with a few songs from each of the old records," he says, offering hope for veteran fans. Cross those fingers that they'll play "Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister."

Minus the Bear perform with Portugal the Man and the Big Sleep on Saturday, May 3, at the Phoenix Theater, 201 E. Washington St., Petaluma. 8pm. $15. 707.762.3565.

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