Bear in Heaven, Young Magic, Weeknight
Cat’s Cradle Back Room, Carrboro
Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014

Bear in Heaven: synthetic blues

Dark synth-pop is a tricky aesthetic. When done right, it’s an immersive, fascinating experience blurring electronic and traditional instruments, and it can provide the same mind-altering experience as goodsci-fi. When done poorly, though … well, there’s also bad sci-fi.
Two bands on Saturday night’s Cat’s Cradle Back Room bill succeeded at this genre through different, though exciting, methods. And one—opener Weeknight—did not. It was an enlightening contrast. Thematically, Weeknight wasn’t that different from Bear in Heaven or Young Magic—the songs were appropriately moody and bleak. The difference is, they weren’t fun, and their set fell on the wrong side of the thin line between moody and mopey. Accordingly, Weeknight’s low bass wub wub wub felt incongruous, not danceable.

Middle band Young Magic, though, knocked it out of the park with an energetic, passionate set. Instead of the ’80s flavor many synth-pop bands champion, this trio drew from ’90s trip-hop, with additional nods to Bjork. At times they came across as a faster, wilder Portishead. Young Magic was dark, yeah, but possessed of the electricity and excitement of a talented band just getting started.
They’d be a hard act to follow and Headliners Bear in Heaven stumbled at first. There were missed cues and visible grimaces at least until the band hit “Time Between.” Some of the strongest performances, though, were of songs four years old, from the band’s best-received LP, Beast Rest Forth Mouth. While its new record Time is Over One Day Old is solid—and notably darker than Beast Rest—Bear in Heaven seemed more excited to play the older material.
Yet this may all be part of the band’s general offhandedness: vocalist Jon Philpot has quite the dry sense of humor. “Did you like that song?” he asked after “Demon.” “Do you want us to play it again, exactly like we just played it?” And just before dedicating “Lovesick Teenagers” to North Carolina, he told a Carrboro audience how torn he is between his love of Durham and of Raleigh: it was probably a joke, but it was told so drily, so flatly, that it was hard to tell.
Bear in Heaven’s music, too, is defined by a similar offhand, disaffected demeanor: it’s so good because it’s so thoroughly cold and detached. Yet following on the heels of such an irrepressible, passionate band as Young Magic, this didn’t always feel like enough.