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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Swear the Bear's Head Looked Too Small Last Year: Thoughts on Bear vs Shark and Bear v Shark

During my time in bands I played with a great many artists that would later be fairly successful artists, not in a Rolling Stones kind of way, but in an able to make a living off of music for a few years kind of way, which is a big freaking deal in the modern musical market. At one point I played with these guys, and this girl, and these guys, and these guys too (in fact they ended Oblivion's ten-win winning streak in battle of the bands in Southeast Michigan, no small feat, I tell you), and some guys who later went on to make this. While all of these bands and artists are very talented, I rarely went to see any of them unless my band was on the bill with them.

Only one "local" band ever had the distinction of making Tres Crow a huge freaking fan of theres. That band was Bear vs. Shark from Ypsilanti, MI. I was introduced to these guys when Ben and I were freezing our asses off trying to tape flyers for an Oblivion show to cold streetlights, and we kept seeing BVS flyers everywhere. We covered most of them up because it was a dog eat crow world in the U of Michigan music scene circa 2001and clean streetlamp real estate was hard to come by. Anyway, we were in the midst of covering up one of these BVS flyers when someone walked by and told us we sucked balls and that Bear vs. Shark was better than our shitty band. This person actually said that to us. We looked at each other, then shrugged and kept flyering, but from then on I started to pay attention to BVS because I hated them because they had at least one fan more than we (Oblivion) had. I was jealous back then, a lot.

Eventually the time came for me to see the vaunted Bear vs Shark in a dive bar in Detroit opening up for some band whose name I don't remember now. There was no more than twenty people in the bar, and there was no stage fact there was no stage at all. It was the least flattering environment I've ever seen a band play in. They slaughtered me. I left the bar in a heaping pile of schoolgirl giddiness. It was embarrassing.

Bear vs. Shark released only two albums, both on Equal Vision records. Their first, Right Now You're in the Best of Hands... was brutal and loud and brash, but also included this gorgeous little gem:

Their second album Terrorhawk could have been something monumental. It delivered on every promise they made on Now You're in the Best of Hands... and also bandaged over every scar left on every bleeding post-punk heart after At The Drive-In sploded into a million little slimey prog rock wormlets all over the indie rock scene. This is a record that never ceases to amaze me with its blistering aggro-garage sound and its glittering diamond choruses, its use of horns and guitars and basses and all sorts of cool percussive tricks, and that organ. God, that organ. Goddamn, that organ! This is one of the best records of the 2000's and I was there, man. I was there when it was all getting made and the new songs were being tried out on the audiences in small clubs packed to the gills with sweaty punks and indie kids and stoners.

I saw BVS four times in six months and they were some of the best shows I ever went to. They were dynamic and crazy and so much fun. They had a whole lot of this:

And then there was some of this too. It was so beautiful.
But then there was also this: the band decided on its name at the exact moment Chris Bachelder was writing his brilliant debut novel Bear v Shark. Neither one was aware of the other, and yet both BVS's music and Bachelder's book explore the same disillusionment, the same numb TV culture. Given this bizarre synchronicity, and that both of these cultural creations had such an enormous impact on me and yet so little impact on the wider cultural landscape, it makes me wonder if it's my tastes that are so out of step, or if it's the world's. As they say, if everyone around you is crazy, then it must be you.

Bear vs Shark broke up in 2005, citing unhappiness with road conditions and a general malaise about the direction the band was heading in. It was a banal ending to something that was magical while it was happening. This band was brilliant in a way I haven't seen close up before or since. Not a year goes by when I don't put those records back on and listen to the sound of a revolution that just never quite took.