Bear Hands’ recent, solid show at Cattivo in Lawrenceville illustrated that concert energy is a lot like money. The more a band puts into the audience—its bank—the more it will get back to reinvest, with interest. So when Bear Hands took the stage with little fanfare and opened with a subdued version of “Bad Friend,” people were slow to leave the bar at the back of the room and gather around. (It didn’t help, either, that the already-dark Cattivo doesn’t have lights it can dim to announce show time.)
Favorite ‘Burgh with an ‘h‘
By the fourth song, however, Bear Hands had converted that mellowness into the chill-inducing vulnerability of “What a Drag,” a song about that partner you hate to love but still do. Dylan Rau’s vocals were tender, and Ted Feldman’s focused face reflected the perfection in his guitar work. The hipsters were starting to chug their Yuenglings to move in for a good spot by the stage, and their energy further fueled the band.
“Peacekeeper” was a racing rock number about quite the opposite of peace. (The song begins, “You won’t find any fingerprints on the gun.”) By now this post-punk quartet was making sure form followed function. They clocked that one in at about twenty beats per minute faster than the album version. A well-deserved pause came afterward, and Feldman expressed his appreciation for the city: “Pittsburgh’s my favorite ‘burgh, especially the ones with an ‘h.’”
Such flattery, given there’s been some tumult in the past. Evidently, the group was banned from another Pittsburgh concert venue. Rau wouldn’t name names but said it rhymed with “Grillosox” and that he hopes to reconcile.
“Belongings,” from Bear Hands’ first album, Burning Bush Supper Club, followed and got the audience grooving. Their dancing rubbed off onto the band for its next number, “High Society.” Cattivo’s stage may be slightly smaller than a postage stamp, but each band member maximized their respective, small personal spaces to bob and dip with their instruments.
The concert continued with equal parts from their first and second albums. “Agora,” which is from that second album, Distraction, was another example of the give/take between audience and band. It helped that many in attendance had done their homework and knew the song’s hook. “AGORA!” they shouted, never once missing a cue. That word, by the way, refers to agoraphobia, a disorder in which a person avoids public situations for fear of embarrassment or helplessness.
Rau, like the rest of Bear Hands, was not agoraphobic. With a knot of red-brown hair, he looked like a ticked-off Pebbles Flintstone. On “Bullshit Savior Complex,” he let his hair down and jumped into the crowd to dance. This delighted not only the female fans but also at least one older, male towhead, who made sure to trade a few steps with the frontman.
Throughout their set, the band displayed technical acumen. The mixing was balanced and the vocals decipherable. Auxiliary instruments, such as synths and maracas, came through clearly. They readjusted sound levels multiple times throughout the night as well.
Their technical proficiency reached its zenith with “Moment of Silence,” which saw bassist Val Loper and drummer TJ Orscher briefly leave the stage only to return to layer their instruments’ sound over Rau’s rallying vocals and Feldman’s MGMT-esque synths (Fitting, as Rau knew MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser from their days at Wesleyan University.).
Just like on Distraction, “Moment of Silence” flowed seamlessly into “Giants.” The latter song was a top 10 hit on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, and it also served as an effective closer. As Rau spitfired lyrics, the good vibes went round and round the audience and the band in a self-feeding loop, threatening to whirl out of the club itself.
Prior to Bear Hands’ impressive set, garage rock duo Junior Prom opened. Their sound hinted at their potential to be a part of a line of great duos, such as House of Freaks and The White Stripes. They also played their big hit, “Sheila Put the Knife Down,” much to the audience’s appreciation.
Although a little slow to start, Bear Hands quickly came out of, ahem, hibernation. Attendees were also happy to hear that the group was starting its tour in Pittsburgh. Yes, there was no encore, and the show ended about 9:30, but a great concert is a great concert, no matter what the time is. And, hey, with the kitchen open until 1 a.m. and the beer still flowing, who could complain?
Chris Maggio is a freelance writer who likes live music and good comedy.