By Emily O’Donnell
Written for Issue 8 of the Original Magazine (2010)
Its a late night at the Brillobox, where upstairs the crowd has squeezed into a small space. Pressed close together, the audience is hot and sweaty, slipping on puddles of beer and knocking into each other as they dance. Several bands play through their sets, and the crowd’s energy is built higher with every song. Walls shaking from the sound of the crowd’s cheers, they are ready to receive Ursa Major when the boys finally step onto the stage.
Many who came out that evening were enticed by the promise of a free CD and four bands, for only eight dollars. The fans turned out in droves. It was clear that the majority of attendees were there for Ursa Major. Their fans are dedicated, sticking around until two in the morning, until the last chord has been played.
The stage at the Brillobox is barely a foot off the ground. Ursa Major is not elevated above their fans, they remain on equal footing. They talk to their audience, like they would talk to their friends, and even receive assistance from people in the crowd during technical difficulties. The members of the band are laid back and funny, easily shifting from a joke to fill the time while the drummer sorts out his technical problems, to a rock song that gets everyone moving and jumping.
In concert, Ursa Major is a tour de force with five members and half a dozen instruments; every member has something to contribute. Their enthusiasm is contagious, every song brought to life by their incredible energy and passion for the sound. It is refreshing to see a band that loves to play and that feeling is clearly expressed in every song.
The new album was released in August, called Great Big Light. The album is not a long one, with eleven songs each clocking in at under four minutes apiece. Each song is radically different from the last, beginning with the energetic rock anthem ‘Not a King,’ followed by the folk ballad ‘Castro’s Lullaby.’ Each song is distinctive in its own right, thanks to the diversity of the band members. A five-man band, three of the members tend to write the lyrics and song structure most often, but each has his own style to complement the others. The overall feeling of the album is that of a folk-rock band, but their diversity of style is demonstrated in doo-wop songs like ‘Cabin Fever.’
Ursa Major has recently completed their first tour as a full band, and are already working on new music. The band members say that they want to record the next album at home, in their basement where so much music happens. Vocalist and keyboardist, Jim Price described their recording style as such. “A lot of the songs are skeletal, and we flesh them out in the studio.” This is typical of their organic musical style. The band members say they often bring in bits and pieces of songs and mix them together until they have achieved the desired result.
Ursa Major is one of several bands driving the Pittsburgh underground music scene. The band shares a house in North Oakland, where they often hold house shows. A touring band plays there once a month and they also host occasional open mic nights and poetry readings. They love to play for their friends and fans, so check out their website at www.ursamajorinternet.com for their next gig, it is an experience not to be missed.