The High Watt Nashville, TN
The Players: Dylan Rau, vocals, guitar; Ted Feldman, guitar, vocals; Val Loper, bass, vocals; TJ Orscher, drums, vocals.
Material: Bear Hands came to a crowded High Watt by way of Brooklyn, touting a synthesized and electrically charged off-brand of indie rock built for late nights turned early mornings. The quartet borrows heavily from both post punk and new wave, splicing smart lyrics—particularly on their newest album released this year, Distraction—with pedals and effects that underscore and sculpt, rather than overpower the band’s sound.
Musicianship: Distinctive key and guitar-driven melodies and ‘80s electronic influences articulate Bear Hands’ sound while their vocal delivery is slack and accessible. Onstage, frontman and keyboardist Dylan Rau and guitarist Ted Feldman playing side by side creates a pronounced contrast and synergy, striking a balance between Feldman’s dude on the street stage presence and Rau’s quirky onstage vibes with a Thom Yorke type mash-up of energy and reservation.
Performance: A lot of Nashville shows feel more like auditions in terms of energy and crowd reaction; in a city filled with musicians, often few audience members are impressed.Those vibes were nonexistent at Bear Hands’ show. Not only did the band draw the crowd to the stage—which often keeps a cool distance—but they got everyone to dance to a set with all the production and sound quality of a solid venue, but all the intimacy, raucousness and informality of a college house show. They pulled from their whole catalog including several great cuts from their latest, like “Agora” and “Bone Digger,” which bend and shimmer with a whimsy and bizarreness reminiscent of Talking Heads, but also some from their first LP that really hit home, like “Can’t Stick ’Em” and its infecting bass riff.
Summary: There’s a great cadence to Bear Hands’ live show that’s hyper-inclusive of the audience, animated and resonant. The records—2007’s Golden EP, 2010’s full-length debut Burning Bush Supper Club and 2014’s Distraction—are definitely worth hearing for a critical listen to the songwriting; see the live show for the group experience.
– Jessica Pace