Bear vs Shark announced a short reunion tour about ten years after their last set of live shows. Along with the tour, Equal Vision Records has released a double LP compilation album consisting of their first two records, graced with Ralph Steadman-esque artwork made by frontman Marc Raffi. Along the tour, which sold out about half of its shows, BVS played alongside Child Bite, Portugal The Man, LVL UP, and other great bands. They also have an Audiotree Live Session on the way. They’ve been productive as hell, to say the least. Hopefully their hype doesn’t end as fast as their tour did. “I hope this isn’t the end,” says guitarist/bassist Derek Kiesgen. “We’re like Tinker Bell. If you don’t believe in us we go away.”
Thanks to the internet (which is mostly responsible for starting the waves which surmounted into a full-blown reunion tour), I’m doing my part to make sure we never will. I was lucky enough to score tickets to the long-sold-out last show of the tour, and it was a bittersweet-excitement to be seeing Bear vs Shark for the first (and what I thought would be the last) time.
Opening for BVS was Bong Mountain. On the eve of their own two year anniversary, they came out strong and were met by an equally enthusiastic crowd more than willing to shout the lyrics back at the four members on stage. Bong Mountain has been around long enough to have earned this spot as an opener for Bear vs Shark, yet are still a young enough band to not get sick of their only release, a nine song album. Their emo/math blend (surely Bear vs Shark inspired) of punk works so well because they know when to be melodic and lyrical, and when to just crank out a two-minute (or less) track. Their songwriting follows the fashion of positional storytelling. Their lyrics rarely rhyme but still bring the songs to a relatable close. In between songs, they celebrated a birthday and took a moment to dedicate “Why You so Short?” to the lead singer’s mom who was in supportive attendance. They ended with my personal favorite track, “Midwest Symbiosis,” which has only gotten better every time I’ve listened to it.
Soon after, a voiceover repeating the phrase “I am your voice” caught everyone’s attention and cued the crowd to Braidedveins taking the stage, but that wasn’t enough to prepare us for their set. This Flint native four-piece sounds like if Black Flag had an existential crisis and turned their tempo down just slightly, yet still managed to keep their driving sludge-riff songs to around the two minute mark. Their energy and audience engagement was practically opposite from Bong Mountains set, leaving the crowd unsure how to appropriately react; about four people attempted to start a mosh pit, while most of the crowd stared into space, either completely absorbing or ignoring the sights and sounds coming off the stage.
Braidedveins’ song “What now?” is all too appropriate in this post-election timeframe and weighed heavy in the atmosphere of the room as the crowd internalized this question and sought answers for themselves, or even simply how to react to this band. The eerie voiceovers continued between songs, as the lead singer explored the crowd and searched for something to climb and shout the next song from. We were confronted with a series of repetitive existential conundrums from all angles for the rest of this set; “What more could you want from us?” “Who do we trust?” These questions are still haunting me.
Bear vs Shark needed no introduction and took the stage accordingly, to the Game of Thrones theme song, for the first time in Grand Rapids in ten years. Even if you’re not a big GOT fan (like myself), this was an exciting entrance. They didn’t waste any time before giving the audience what they wanted: an intensely nostalgic cathartic experience. Blasting out early dynamic hits like “The Employee is Not Afraid” with a new energy only ten years of waiting could reignite, they peppered their inbetween-tracks-spiel with shoutouts to Jeff VandenBerg/Friction Records and the DAAC and Grand Rapids in general for all the love and support they have shared throughout their original five year span and even now so many years later.
Derek Kiesgen told me via phone interview only days after the show, “Grand Rapids has a real community. Everyone in GR is just there to rock out and have fun.” As Kiesgen put it that night during the show: “It’s like if you’re way too high driving around and listening to our record and then find out that we’re coming back after 10 years”. I can only imagine that’s how some of the audience actually felt, like one of the fans they invited onstage to sing “Kylie”, a larger fellow with unruly muttonchops, who immediately removed his t shirt (revealing an undershirt) and confessed to everyone that “MPS” was his wedding song.
This seems like an interesting choice considering how Paffi described some of their songs, “about dad fucking and corporate oppression” but no one seemed surprised. They ended their set with “Broken Dog Leg” and no one seemed quite ready for the night to end. They could have played their entire set list over again, and the crowd would have loved every note and beat, every bead of sweat produced, and every second of the past being re-lived.
Written By: John Akers
Photo Credit: Katy Batdorff Photography | katybatdorff.com
Location Credit: The Pyramid Scheme