Halfway through the set comes “New Mexico”. It’s a song that sounds like an open stretch of highway bisecting a craggy landscape: it is shuffling and dusty, straight and pebbled, with speed that surges though the distance to go seems endless. When Simon Petty sings it, his voice is full of grain and smolder; the melody channeled by the band brightens and darkens, like a dusk that dampens but doesn’t die. This song wants to take us somewhere.
And Minibar do, too. They themselves are notable for their movements—five Brits who’ve relocated in California, playing music that sounds as if the time between Hotel California and now has been deleted. Tonight, we are witnesses to another trip, their first to New York. And on this, they want us to appreciate someplace we aren’t—someplace more sunkissed, bucolic; someplace where bands can just be, rather than be buzzed about.
They’ve a small, but earnest, crowd, as sincere and unjaded as the poppified country being performed. A mother and daughter, both over 30 and who by all guesses have never been to a rock show, are sitting closest to the front, slapping the table and clapping their hands in the air. To one side is a gaggle of college-aged girls, equally thrilled by the easygoing music and the raggedly handsome good looks of the band’s lead singer. To the other side, yuppie couples cuddle one another and sip cocktails. Onstage, the standard New York rock show cool is markedly, and refreshingly, lacking. The fellows of Minibar smile modestly and greet us warmly; they appear pleased when it’s obvious they’re enjoying themselves, they tell stories when they feel it’s appropriate. You get the feeling that they’re just being exactly who they are: nothing more, nothing less.
Though true to form, this show maintains a certain guardedness, seldom straining from the manicured studio sounds of their two full-length releases. For the unseasoned rock show attendee, this is exactly appropo—and it does take a certain dexterity to reproduce songs in the real as vividly as they sound on record. But those seeking oodles of new tricks needed to look elsewhere. After opening their set with a near carbon-copy of “It Is What It Is” off their latest release, Fly Below the Radar (2003, Foodchain Records), it seemed certain that “Unstoppable”, the album’s second track, would begin after a four second silence. That song did come, but much later—and when it did, it proceeded on its rootsy-waltz course until near the end, when something compelled Petty to get on his knees, inserting in a bloodthirsty, and surprising, guitar solo. From then on, it was clear that Minibar wanted to let go—but perhaps the relaxed nature of their music didn’t facilitate it.
But then again, perhaps the last thing one wants on a trip are unexpected shocks. For as much as the show remained in a comfort zone, it was highly comforting. “Breathe Easy”, another beautiful 3/4 swinger from Fly Below, was earthen and wide as an open plain, pretty and water-tight. “I Know Without Asking”, one of the few offerings from 2001’s Road Movies, was as familiar and warm as a handshake from an old friend. “Thanks”, a song off their limited-edition disc that accompanies Fly, was charging in its aural homage to Big Star and their brethren, pulling the crowd in with its raucous, country-flavored power pop.
Minibar are going places. Whether forward or back in time, with trends or paying them absolutely no mind, they are a band interested in the spaces between, the hours spent, the changes that occur en route. They are a band for going away and coming home again.