I am going to start with honesty: I didn’t know much about Miniature Tigers or Bear Hands when I walked into the Blind Pig last Thursday night, and I knew nothing about Total Slacker. In truth, I listened to Miniature Tigers and Bear Hands a little bit, followed them on twitter, and of course crammed them into my ears the week leading up to the concert, but I never really felt connected to them. They just didn’t excite me the way other bands do.
I went to this show with two other Badger Senators, a writer and an editor, and I’d say that we all had about the same level of knowledge about these bands. However, unlike them, I had never been to the Blind Pig (a venue/bar in downtown Ann Arbor), so I was shocked by how cramped it was when I walked in. We arrived at about 8 p.m., got a table around 8:30 p.m., and just talked and got to know each other.
Then the first act came on. I hadn’t researched their music the way I had for the other two bands, but maybe it was better that way. Total Slacker went on at about 9:30 p.m., and played their set. By 9:36, all three of us had taken refuge in the back, behind the crowd and well into the bar. We sought shelter not because we disliked their music, but because we disliked how loud it was and how intense some of their fans were. We, and me especially, were just not ready for the kind of head-banging, politically-charged, chaotic sound that Total Slacker has; it’s just not our style. So they came and went, having sapped our energy, yet priming us for the following act.
Here I offer some criticism of the Blind Pig’s mismanagement: Work needs to be done on the timing of the acts. Total Slacker came on at about 9:30 p.m., and left the stage by about 10:15. That is a normal, 45-minute opener, when you would expect the headliners, Miniature Tigers, to come on next, in a reasonable amount of time. It was 11:30 p.m. when the next band came on, which to our disappointment was still not Miniature Tigers. That is a full 2 hours between the starts of two opening acts, which is kind of unacceptable on a Thursday night. Figure it out, Blind Pig.
After the extended intermission, we were begging for entertainment. Even a magic show would have been fine, just something to fill the air after Total Slacker. Perhaps it was because we were so ready to hear anything that I was so surprised when I finally heard Bear Hands. They were unexpectedly unreal.
Bear Hands, like so many talented bands, has a fantastic stage presence. They play their music, they play it well, but most importantly they bring energy to the stage. This was of the utmost importance at this point in the night, as the energy in the room had dissipated in the hour following Total Slacker. So when Bear Hands began they’re set, everyone instantly came alive. “Agora” really got the crowd moving, and they played with such enthusiasm that you had to feel connected to them. Between the lead vocalist, Dylan Rau, singing and the crowd responding in the chorus, everyone had was excited to hear them rock. They also played “Giants” and “Bone Digger,” the latter having just gotten recognition from NPR’s Heavy Rotation Series.
Bear Hands closed nicely, and this time there was a much smaller gap between acts. Granted, it was now 12:30 a.m. and things were getting weird. Like the couple standing in front of us swing-dancing to dubstep weird, but hey, you do you. Also, the bassist from Total Slacker got in the crowd and let loose, which was not only fun, but humanizing. I’ve never been to a venue where the artist wasn’t behind a barricade, so to see members of the bands that had already played in the audience reminded me that they are normal people when they aren’t on stage. But enough already – on with the show.
Miniature Tigers finally took the stage at around 12:50 a.m., but it was well worth it!! They opened the show with “Sex on the Regular,” a hilarious hit of theirs. They also played “Swimming Pool Blues,” a song from their upcoming album, Cruel Runnings, which sounded great and lively and totally in sync with their sound. That sound was so tangible in such a small venue, and that was what was great about their performance. The frontman, Charlie Brand, really started interacting with the crowd as they played more and more of their songs, eventually taking on the feel of friends showing friends music they had proudly made. The Blind Pig is physically so similar to a dark basement or garage that it forces intimacy between the talent and the fans, intimacy that Miniature Tigers took advantage of. By doing so, they were able to propel it from a concert into a jam session, with a small, intensely captivated audience.
Then lightening struck. You could tell they were crescendo-ing toward something, but I had no idea it would be a union of all three bands singing a ’90s American classic. They all came together to sing “Closing Time” by Semisonic.
Brand took the microphone and spoke of how it had been great traveling with Bear Hands, and sadly announced that this would be there last performance together, which was what had warranted the song. I saw this as such an incredible move on his part; to sacrifice time out of your performance for your opening act is such a generous thanking. They then closed with “Cannibal Queen,” and the show ended on that bittersweet note.
They did not, however, immediately send us home. Instead, the members from all of the bands went to the bar area and socialized with us, the fans! This gesture cemented their standing with me and definitively proved how dedicated they are to their fans. I got to speak with Brandon Lee, the bassist for Miniature Tigers. Fighting through my starstruck state, I managed to hold conversation with him. He told us about how great, albeit exhausting, touring the country was, and how much he liked doing it. We parted ways, and I walked away in disbelief of how relaxed and ordinary he seemed – he is, after all, a rock star.
While the Blind Pig may be hectic, it is at least a place that allows for a more fluid relationship between the artists and the audience, which was so critical to the great experience that I had there. By leaving the talent exposed to the audience, they allowed the talent to behave more like themselves; it was humanizing. While you may think this takes them off the rock star pedestal, it actually raises them, and in my eyes, prevents them from falling. By having an experience so personal with them, you create a true fan from someone who was only a follower when he walked in the door.
After the show I had the chance to interview Charlie Brand and the rest of Miniature Tigers via e-mail, which led them to be even more personable and relateable. Here’s the interview’s transcript:
Badger Senate: It has been two years since the release of MIA PHARAOH, and you have
Cruel Runnings on the horizon. How do you fell about this album,
considering MIA PHARAOH‘s warm reception? Are you trying to top it,
make a sequel? What are your goals?
Miniature Tigers: Well I wouldn’t call the reception of Mia Pharaoh warm. Some people
loved it but I think it also rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
I think Cruel Runnings is our most focused album to date. We are
always trying to top ourselves.
BS: Fortress has been classified as being a highly
diverse album loosely based on the sounds of other artists, yet is
still authentic. How would you classify Cruel Runnings?
MT: We weren’t trying to be derivative or ape other artists at all and
it’s kind of a bummer if that’s how people read into it. We really
enjoy so many genres of music and love to experiment with different
sounds. I think some people need bands to stay in a box so it’s easy
to classify. Fuck that.
BS: I very much enjoyed “Afternoons with David Hockney.”
Can you tell me more about your interest in David Hockney and the Pop
MT: When I was writing Mia Pharaoh I was very inspired by his world of
Southern California swimming pools. I wanted the music to sound like
the bright colors. We have a song “Swimming Pool Blues” on our new album
that is kind of our version of A Bigger Splash.
BS: Being originally from Arizona and now residing
in Brooklyn, do you think you’re more heavily influenced by West
Coast or East Coast sounds? Or no coast?
MT: I moved to Austin recently so I guess neither.
BS: How would you characterize your sound?
MT: Ultimately I’m always trying to write the perfect pop song and have
fun getting lost along the way.
BS: What, in the career of Miniature Tigers, do you
feel most proud of, whether it be a particular song or album, or just
how far you’ve come?
MT: Honestly I’m most proud of Cruel Runnings. It’s our most collaborative
record and in my opinion our strongest collection of songs yet. I
think we’ve all figured out how to play together and have never felt
more joy doing it.
BS: You’ve been on tour for nearly a month now with
Bear Hands. How has touring all across the country with them been?
MT: It’s been amazing! They are really cool guys and are fun to watch every night.
BS: What is next for Miniature Tigers?
MT: Releasing the album May 27th and then lots of touring!
Written by Tom Johnson