THE BEARS: LIVE (2002)
1) Honey Bee; 2) What's The Good Of Knowing; 3) Dave; 4) Robobo's Beef; 5) Mr. Bonaparte; 6) Under The Volcano; 7) Success; 8) Little Blue River; 9) As You Are; 10) Trust; 11) Complicated Potatoes; 12) Figure It Out; 13) Caveman; 14) Man Behind The Curtain.
This album, recorded live at some small club in some irrelevant location on the underbelly of the universe, makes me happy with its tracklist — the three studio Bears albums are given the exact same priorities that I have defined for myself: 7 songs from the best one, Car Caught Fire, 4 songs from the second best (The Bears), and only 3 from the worst (Rise And Shine). Of course, 4 against 3 may not seem like much, statistically speaking, but remember the proportions, too: Rise And Shine was about ten minutes longer than The Bears, so the figures are valid. Also, one might object that the band was simply promoting Car Caught Fire at the time, but, you know, that'd be just guesswork, while here we have a strong factual correlation and all.
Anyway, it is not very significant. What is significant is to understand that the difference between a Bears studio album and a Bears live album is in no way similar to the difference between, say, a King Crimson studio vs. live album. The Bears have pledged to be a pop band — not an experimental avantgarde one or even a rock'n'roll one — and they do not see themselves obliged to «rip it up» on stage the way King Crimson could, when they showed the world how this strange, otherworldly, New Wave-influenced music on their early 1980s records could be brought to a boiling point (and bring your brains to the same point in the process). The Bears take things much lighter, and simply give their little fan club a good time.
It is not uninteresting, though, to hear these songs without the heavy «studio tinkering» they had been given, particularly to compare the real old ones with the new arrangements — ʽHoney Beeʼ without all the «twang» effects on the guitars and vocals, for instance; or ʽTrustʼ, which is stripped clean of its feedback blasts and given a largely acoustic setting; or ʽFigure It Outʼ, which, due to the band's limited budget, is deprived of its brass section, but Belew and Fetters compensate for this with some wild guitar sparring (with respect for each other's styles — I mean, Belew can probably slaughter anyone in a sparring match, but they make it work instead).
On the whole, there are few major departures from the original structures or moods: other than the acoustic takes on ʽTrustʼ and ʽAs You Areʼ, I have noticed an extended psycho-coda to ʽSuccessʼ — the only place on the album where Belew engages in some serious guitar pyrotechnics, probably to appease those people who only came to the show in hopes to catch a glimpse of the famous mad guitarist — and that's about it. I am also not completely satisfied with the setlist: instead of the sulky ʽDaveʼ, I'd rather have ʽOld Fat Cadillacʼ or any other spritelier number, but they probably had to support the delicate balance between all the songwriters and singers. Still, good songs, good vibe, the audience goes wild (enough to roar in ecstasy, as if this were a stadium show, before the encore, and chant "Bears! Bears! Bears!" after the encore), and the songs are let free to roam outside of their tight studio shells — reason enough to give it a try. "Pop music is not dead!" one of the band members declares as they slip out of ʽMr. Bonaparteʼ, and even though, on a global scale, this is a debatable statement, at least The Bears offer here much more than just empty words in its defense. Thumbs up.