Big Pimpin'

Minus the Bear: getting behind the music and the nicknames, as we kick it like wild donkeys with the band in the Big Apple.



Graceland, 206-381-3094, $7

9 p.m. Fri., Nov. 22


Paradox, 206-524-7677, $10 (all ages)

8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 23

The singer runs an art-porn Web site with his wife. The self-deprecating drummer hasn't mastered time signature changes. The carless "fat ass" bassist is the resident babe magnet. The keyboardist engineered Pearl Jam's only non-platinum studio LP, Binaural. The guitarist shotgun marries "Eruption" style, two-handed finger tapping to . . . shoe-gazing indie melancholia?!

Throw in a phalanx of esoteric song titles, foam bear paws, and a profane obsession with Paul Verhoeven, and it's appropriate that I'm interviewing Seattle's debonair supergroup Minus the Bear in Manhattan—one absolute fucking circus deserves another.

Unfortunately, no mere rock band is gonna out-freak the Big Apple, especially on Oct. 31. The Bear will play the Village Underground on West Third tonight, which has been transformed into an impromptu, booty-bangin' block party eerily reminiscent of Naughty by Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray" video.

GROUP THERAPY BEGINS on comfy couches in the Underground's treetop clubhouse of a "band room." More than anything, I want the scoop on the nautical imagery in vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider's wry narratives. For every song on debut full-length Highly Refined Pirates (Suicide Squeeze) set in an oppressively smoky tavern, for every cocktail-hazed memory of a striking woman's fleeting, flirtatious glance, there's a subsequent, naturalistic counterpoint of vast blue oceans, yachts, and beaches.

"I grew up in Seattle, so I've always been around the water," Snider sighs. "My folks had boats and whatnot, so it's just kind of part of the area. That's basically it. I just kind of . . . don't have shit to talk about."

Uh, great answer. And bullshit. Pirates' tongue-suffocating-in-cheek titles ("Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse," "I Lost All My Money at the Cockfights") are good times, but the Bear's heart is in deceptively literal revelations like, "A few summers ago, we spent weeks in her room just having sex and listening to jazz. And that was the life."

Snider presses on: "No, I'm sure that I'll consciously try to write different themes about different subject matter."

"Do you have any themes right now?" guitarist Dave Knudson snidely interjects.

"Uh, no."

"December," keyboardist Matt Bayles suggests.

"Things to do in December," Snider affirms inaudibly, putting a tired arm around Knudson. "I don't know. Most of the situations the lyrics are referring to aren't necessarily about real people."

"We read some review about how our band flaunted our wealth," drummer Erin Tate chimes in, "and it's just hysterical because I don't have any money and I'm homeless."

"There's a certain amount of fantasy written into hip-hop where it's all about the bling," Bayles laughs. "Not that we're trying to mimic that at all, but let's have fun and wish we had some money. Erin's car is breaking down all the time. Dave's car is getting broken into all the time. Cory [Murchy, bassist] doesn't have a car. We take our music seriously, but there's a bit of whimsy to us."

Word of the day alert! Indeed, whimsy runs unchecked in the band's moniker, a punch line to a hilarious hookup anecdote that will be far funnier if you hear it secondhand at a show rather than read it here.

"It's a pretty bad name, but now we're stuck with it," Bayles shrugs.

"Should we change our name?" Tate wonders aloud. "How about 'the Jake Snider Power Quintet?'"

"I like that. . . . " Snider murmurs.

ANY GAGGLE OF idiots should have confounding nicknames, and Minus the Bear don't disappoint. Snider's "Hef" and Tate's "E-zilla" are self-explanatory, but Knudson's "Funzo," Murchy's "Rico," and Bayles' "FIMD" (which, goddammit, is confidential) require digging.

Funzo's the easy one, a reference to Bart Simpson's diabolical doll. Not as avid a watcher as I used to be, I temporarily confuse Funzo with Lard Lad, the doughnut-palming, Homer-menacing Big Boy clone.

"If only we had a fat guy in the band, we could call him Lard Lad," Bayles wishes.

"We could call Cory that," cracks Tate.

"Make fun of my fat ass, man. Fine with me." The wiry Murchy rolls over to reveal a lovably heart-shaped bum. He's inarguably the cute one, dubbed Rico because all cool guys are named Rico, including the protagonist of Starship Troopers, the sci-fi gorefest whose insane dialogue has spawned a whopping three MTB instrumental interlude titles.

I ask Murchy if the Bear's roadies eyeball potential groupies in the audience, ࠬa the Cre in the decade of decadence.

"No, no, no," he laughs. "I couldn't even answer that. No."

"He's surprisingly a shy guy," Tate offers. "The girls like you, Puerto Rico."

"Yeah, . . . I've just got to follow through."

"Right," Snider nods gravely. "Finish the transaction."

Tate pooh-poohs the bassist's modesty: "Once you talk to them, it's over."

"Are you comfortable having this much talk about your personal life in this interview?" Knudson asks. "So how big is your dick? I mean, I know because I've seen it."

Pregnant pause.

"About 20 inches, right?"

To borrow from Pirates' closing track, booyah achieved.

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