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Review: Bears of Blue River at White Rabbit

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Gavin Wilkinson, of The Bears of Blue River. - PHOTO BY BRYAN MOORE

Bears of Blue River
The White Rabbit Cabaret
Thursday, April 26

The Bears of Blue River played a compact set at the White Rabbit on Thursday night, at the top of the bill with a couple of other cool bands, including Chandelier Ballroom and Great Future.

Composed of five guys and girl - any number of whom may or may not be on the stage at any one time - The Bears of Blue River have a relaxed, folk sound touched with a bit of country. They make use of the lap steel and banjo, as well as sweet vocal harmonies between the male and female lead singers, to create emotional, reflective songs with a fresh take on the stuff that affects the lives of 20-something lost souls.

Their song about leaving Indiana to for the "big city calling" features lead guitarist Gavin Wilkinson finger picking his hollow body electric guitar. Leaving home to seek one's destiny is something all of The Bears of Blue River would know about, as they're all originally Hoosiers but live or have lived elsewhere. Don't get fooled by their penchant to dwell on sentiment; they unleashed a grungy jam for their last track. One of the highlights of the show was when Dan Snodgrass of the Bonesetters came on stage to sing alongside them.

On to Chandelier Ballroom. This Bloomington-based band is a personal favorite for the way they experiment with rhythm and get psychedelic without losing sight of song structure and melody. Displaying traces of funk, reggae and even disco, they have a way of building up anticipation in a song, before dropping off into an entirely different direction. But for this show, lead singer Steve Elmlinger's voice wasn't coming through at all. They did finally get the vocals figured out, but the set was plagued by sound issues.

Great Future kicked off the night. They play hard with lots of fast chords and quick work on cymbals. But songs like "Mystery Flowers" have a complexity to them that makes these guys hard to classify. One onlooker put them in the same realm as Phoenix and Modest Mouse. Not being a big fan of either, I'm loath to let that comparison sit but I can't come up with a better one, so there it is. Suffice it to say I liked their edginess, but also appreciated that they are reaching for something more intricate in their songwriting. I'd welcome the chance to see them rounding out another lineup in the future.

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