Once upon 2005–a chaotic, anthemic, one-of-a-kind band from Michigan called Bear vs Shark broke up the same year I discovered them.
It's a tale as old as time–maybe even a right of passage. I was, as they say, late to the party; the afterglow lingered, but the house was empty. It bore the scars of something special, something vital, the kind of thing you just had to see for yourself. I, alongside others, sighed in the doorway with the assurance that what had occurred in the years the band was active would never occur again. So I clung to the artifacts that Bear vs Shark left: two near-perfect albums blending soul, hardcore, emo, pop, indie, and punk in a way I’d ever heard before or since, despite their many imitators. I twitched to the balletic mayhem of their music in my room, approximated the elegant caveman bellows of singer Marc Paffi while stuck in traffic, and time and time again imagined myself in a crowd below the band, blinded by the force of their urgent, ephemeral musical gift.
It's hard to fall in love with something, though, when you know you'll never get to touch it...to see it for yourself.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself inside Market Hotel, an intimate venue in Bushwick, Brooklyn, waiting for Bear vs Shark–the band that were as good as ghosts–to take the stage.
Market Hotel is one of the few New York venues of its kind left. As more and more low capacity rooms and DIY spaces are shuttered due to increasing rent costs, intimate concerts are becoming an endangered breed. The band will continue their run at venues like Bowery Ballroom and Echoplex, but the energy will doubtlessly be different. This stage is small–a wedge in the pointed corner of the building, with the passing M train just outside the window lighting the faces of an already dense crowd. Even without these particularly New York charms, the place seemed under a spell, frozen in a state of suspended anticipation.
Then, after long silence, it was broken.
The band were all present (founding members John Gaviglio, Derek Kiesgen, and Paffi), with the exclusion of Mike Muldoon who is ably filled in by Nick Jones (of Bars of Gold), and including both of the band’s former drummers (Brandon Moss and Ashley Horak). Guitars and basses were passed around from song to song in a set list that featured crowd favorites and deep tracks from both of the band’s releases–2003’s Right Now You’re In The Best Of Hands… and their 2005 swan song Terrorhawk.
While it had been over a decade since the band last played together, a fact they acknowledged gladly while onstage—“So what have you guys been up to the last ten years?”–the energy that put them on the map was back, and was nothing less than exhilarating, and possibly why so many still carry a torch for Bear vs Shark ten years later. Paffi’s powerhouse pipes were clearly heard over a crowd that screamed every phrase at the top of their lungs, and the band exhibited their unique talent for executing often complex and nuanced tunes with gleefully reckless vigor. I haven't been to a show in a long time where I was actually afraid the floor might give.
At one point a high-hat stand broke and both drummers worked on fixing it while Gaviglio joked with the crowd. A kid lost his shoe in the pit and Paffi had the audience look for it (eventually a shoe was brought to the stage, but not the right shoe, which prompted Paffi to ask if he was being messed with). During one of the band’s better-known tracks, “Catamaran”, a number of fans were welcomed onstage and gladly handed microphones. Near the end of the set, Paffi called out and personally thanked a fan that had been at their very first show. He knew the fan by name. This sense of camaraderie pervaded and defined a night that meant as much to fans as it did the band, all of who seemed rapt in gratitude for the opportunity to make and experience this music again.
It may have been nostalgia that brought everyone to Market Hotel on a rainy Wednesday night, but while the band played on and the crowd roared you might have thought Bear vs Shark never left at all.