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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014

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Bear Hands rocked the U.S. Cellular Connections Stage at Summerfest.
Bear Hands rocked the U.S. Cellular Connections Stage at Summerfest. (Photo: Summerfest)
Bear Hands guitarist Ted Feldman can do more than just play guitar.
Bear Hands guitarist Ted Feldman can do more than just play guitar. (Photo: Summerfest)

Bear Hands and Bad Suns bring healthy dose of indie rock pop to Summerfest

The last time I saw the Brooklyn-based indie alternative band Bear Hands, they opened for Passion Pit at the Riverside Theater in April of 2010. They were newcomers to the indie scene at that point, with their debut EP titled "Golden" under their belt, and their debut full-length album, "Burning Bush Supper Club" in 2010, an album in which made a tiny splash at the time.

Before they took the stage that night at the Riverside Theater, I remember thinking quietly to myself, "What kind of band name is Bear Hands? They’re probably going to be awful." Oh, how I was such a naïve and clueless teenager. I actually remember them being an impressive, electro-influenced rock quartet that at least got the crowd energetic before Passion Pit took the stage. Ever since that night, however, I haven’t heard much from them since, beyond the songs on "Golden" and "Burning Bush Supper Club," of course.

Finally, four years later, they released their sophomore full-length album, "Distraction," this past February. This time, they’re making a bigger splash than they did before with the hit single, "Giants." Now that they’ve broken away from being openers and have transitioned into headliners, they made a stop at Summerfest last night as part of their summer tour to promote the new album.

As I practiced my balancing skills by standing on the bleacher seating near the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, it was 10 minutes to 10 p.m., the time that Bear Hands was scheduled to start, and the crowd was small, really small. I think I’ve honestly seen more people attend a Wednesday matinee at the local four-screen movie theater in my hometown. The few dozen people made their way as close as they can to the front, myself included, and mostly everyone packed in the first five or six rows, with a few interested bystanders scattered far throughout the remaining rows.

If I were to make an educated guess, the other rows behind me were probably left vacant by people who were eager to bust a move to Fitz and The Tantrums or rock out to Brand New, both of which were performing at the same exact time as Bear Hands. Maybe I should’ve expected this, because Bear Hands isn’t extremely popular yet. Even though they’ve been around for a few years, they’re just now gaining momentum in popularity.

Through a smoky haze, Bear Hands took the stage right on the dot and the crowd erupted in cheers and whistles.

"We’re Bear Hands. Thanks for being with us," said lead singer Dylan Rau.

They opened with the older hit, "What A Drag," from the album, "Burning Bush Supper Club," they then performed a string of songs without any breaks including "Bad Friend," "Belongings," and "What I’ve Learned" among others old and new.

"What’s up? Are you having a good f*cking day? Are you sure you have nowhere else to go?" joked guitarist Ted Feldman. Nope. I had nowhere else to go. Sure, I could’ve been at Fitz and the Tantrums, embarrassing myself with my dance moves. But I chose to stay and jam out to a band that may not be as popular, but deserves as much praise, nonetheless.

They then performed "I Can’t Stick ‘Em" and then transitioned immediately into "Crime Pays," "Blood and Treasure," and "Bone Digger."

"Are you bummed that you’re not watching Fitz and the Tantrums or Brand New right now?" Feldman asked. At this point, I didn’t even care that I would miss out on Fitz and the Tantrums or Brand New. At this point, I was so impressed with their performance so far that it automatically trumped all other possible experiences that I could’ve had.

They followed "Bone Digger" with "Bullsh*t Saviour Complex" and then "Peacekeeper," which I think has the most punk sound that got the crowd moving as if the song was some sort of energy source. Some started to head bang and the sloppy drunk dancing became even sloppier.

"Happy birthday, America. Happy Fourth of July! Thanks for being with us again," said Rau. Once he said this, the crowd showed their drunken patriotism by chanting "USA! USA! USA!" until the band started playing "Moment of Silence." The crowd went crazy as they closed out the show with "Giants," a song that undoubtedly received the biggest reaction and deservedly so as I think it’s the best song from "Destruction."

As soon as "Giants" finished, the band bid farewell and the crowd left – actually they ran – to catch whatever was left to probably see the remainder of Fitz and the Tantrums or Brand New. Some waited for a brief minute, myself included, to see if they would come back out for an encore, but I should've known better. The crew started taking down equipment: a universal signal that the show is indeed over and everyone should leave.

"Have you heard of Bad Suns? You probably haven’t. They’re not mainstream." This is probably what a hipster would say somewhere, but the fact is that a lot of people haven’t heard of the Bad Suns yet and that’s not okay. The indie pop rock band, which hails from sun-soaked Los Angeles, are just getting their start, and their Summerfest gig as an opening act of sorts for Bear Hands last night marks their first in Milwaukee.

The band released a breakout EP, "Transpose," this past January and they quickly followed it up with their first full-length album, "Language & Perspective," which was just released on iTunes on June 24 and in stores on July 3. The band is quickly on the rise, having performed "Cardiac Arrest," their first single off their new album, on "Conan" and touring with a breakout band – the always impressive The 1975 – earlier this year.

It’s not at all surprising that they toured with The 1975, as both bands have a similar aesthetic sound that’s undoubtedly catchy and will bring anyone up to their feet. And that’s exactly what they did. They brought a dose of catchy indie pop, which itself sounds like songs you’d hear as you walk through any Urban Outfitters or Hollister. That doesn’t take away from the fact, however, that each song that they performed was very, very catchy.

As Bad Suns took the stage, the girls swooned over lead singer Christo Bowman, who looks like a punk rock version of Jesse McCartney, but with a way cooler edge. They opened with "We Move Like The Ocean," a song that, much like every one of their other songs throughout the set, was energetic. Before he belts out the final chorus, he asks the crowd, "What’s up Summerfest?" They then performed "Transpose," followed by "Matthew James," "Dancing on Quicksand," "20 Years," and "Pretend."

Lead singer gave a hearty "Thank you very much. I can’t remember when I had this much fun on the Fourth of July. Let’s have a f*cking good time tonight, yeah?" which was met with an enthusiastic response from the crowd, who surprisingly filled most of the bleachers (but let’s get real, people were probably killing time before other headliners that started at 10 p.m. This was most obvious by how quickly the crowd scattered away from the bleachers after their final song, it was as if a fire broke out or something.)

Bowman really found his groove about halfway through the set as he began to circle on stage as if he was trying his best to impersonate Mick Jagger, or at least a similar onstage swagger. He became much more loose and confident in his performance, and it was most obvious that he was in his own zone of comfort as he was on stage performing to the Milwaukee crowd. This energy was infectious and got the crowd moving.

The band then performed "Take My Love" before Bowman proclaimed, "We’ll come back real soon. We promise you that." I hope he doesn’t break that promise. They performed three more songs following "Take My Love," including "Rearview," "Cardiac Arrest," which the crowd went absolute bananas over, and the closer "Salt."

Bear Hands and Bad Suns are two indie pop rock bands that are on the rise and hopefully will continue to find success, one catchy tune at a time.  

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