10 best needle drops in The Bear season 2

Exploring the curated music moments in The Bear: 10 songs that became a pivotal part of the show's storytelling.

The Bear scene

The show cooked up one hell of a soundtrack, with everything from soul bangers to cuts by Chicago heroes

Fak (Matty Matheson) really loves the Replacements. You can tell if you catch him in the background of episode five, if you strain to hear him, his vocals buried in the mix like it’s All Things Must Pass as he chats the electrician’s ear off. He’s like the kid in the back of the classroom with a booklet of Sharpie-ed CD-Rs, talking with his hands and desperate to have his opinions—which are his feelings, who he really is—heard. Validated. The kind today that would have manicured playlists, something for any vibe, for any of life’s moments.

The Bear is the television version of this person, this tendency, this compulsion. Season two’s needle drops seem scrupulously timed, mixed, chosen like a dish plated with tweezers. When Wilco hits, obviously, it’s “Handshake Drugs,” and we see busy mitts at Tweedy’s first mention of “hands.” When it’s Pearl Jam, it is “Come Back,” and the gas is back on, and so is the restaurant. It’s almost a bit much, a bit too completist. In a way maybe not previously seen since The Sopranos. The show is the delightful but overbearing music nerd you are glad to know to ask to deejay your wedding, or backyard cookout, or road trip. Or a late-night first kiss, in an empty kitchen at the end of that aforementioned episode, which is soundtracked, by, yes, the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.”

Here are our favorite such musical moments from The Bear’s second season.

10. “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It),” AC/DC (episode 9, “Omelette”)

They could have inserted any Bon Scott-era AC/DC ripper for the moment to blast the burners, unlock the door, and let the camera move like it’s tied to an out-of-control deflating balloon. Here is the cathartic energy of being 17 and in a borrowed Camaro with the volume knob broken. The first true moment the bureaucratic checkpoints are passed, the anxieties no longer matter, and it’s time to do nothing but, as Mikey (Jon Bernthal) says, as we are constantly reminded: “Let it rip.”

9. “Glass, Concrete & Stone,” David Byrne (episode 7, “Forks”)

Even a pop-hating cynic would have to smile at the sight of Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) late-night grinning and Honda-gunning to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” but this episode (which the actor walked us through) is more, at heart, about learning to set your place at the table. And so is Byrne’s song, which captures disappointment, disillusionment in the city and its jungle, your breath in the air on the walk to the car when it’s not even light yet, “waking at the crack of dawn, to send a little money home.” After the gut-punch sixth episode of demented yuletide, everyone desperately needs a new rhythm. Enter the soft percussive drive of questioning but keeping going. It is the fit for the Richie episode, for his quiet turn toward the guy that “wears suits now,” for the up-at-dawn vision quest of purpose, of smudge discernment, of the unstoppable force that is a pie from Pequod’s. Eventually, Richie feels like Byrne’s narrator, “puttin’ on aftershave, nothin’ is out of place.” He is stepping up, “keepin’ (the) flavor fresh,” getting as much pleasure as putting that plate down for someone else to enjoy. He is gradually becoming all about acts of service, about “hospitality” and the way that restaurants are like hospitals. ( “Okay, that’s a little much.”)

8. “Future Perfect,” The Durutti Column (episode 3, “Sundae”)

For as much light as the show shines on the greasy and laborious aspects of opening a new restaurant, here is the sound of that first original, innocent dream. Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) is able to sit back, nearly alone on a Chicago River boat architecture tour, letting a sated stomach coalesce, letting an imagination marinate, letting Chicago’s reach and stretch and hulking concrete breadth tower and dominate and hint at the power of possibility. Especially pasta possibility. The synth-y, spacy, futuristic post-punk pulse plays beautifully over a loving montage of her life history, her future hopes. It is a delightful movement of respite, of turned-down solitude, the dreamy rhythms of snow-swirled inspiration the only thing guiding toward that perfect future. Or at least a different future.

7. “Twenty Five Miles,” Edwin Starr (episode 3, “Sundae”)

There’s no shortage of “fuck it, let’s ride” bangers on The Bear—see AC/DC, above—but it’s hard to beat this organ-and-clap fueled peripatetic Motown gem. Stood up by Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), Sydney text replies with the ever passive-aggressive thumbs up, flips her phone over, and readies her fork for a huge spite bite as the raucous rave-up intro of “c’mon feet” kicks in. A relentless smattering of skewed skyline shots follow, the thunder of the El backing a strutting inspiration walkabout, where she solo traverses through pepperoni-chocked slices and incandescent broths and fryers frying and old cohort hugs and new industry introductions and wisdom passed and whole-hog butcher lessons and the heel-nip of closure disappointments. The song counts down the miles to home, but some journeys, some days in Chicago, never really leave you. “I just can’t lose my stride.”

6. “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” Freddy Fender (episode 5, “Pop”)

Can karaoke count as a needle drop? Either way, there’s no denying Tina’s (Liza Colón-Zayas) performance, as she fortifies herself with a shot, exhales deeply, and then angles her way slow and then sure into Freddy Fender’s bilingual crossover chart-topper, and a new friend group, and herself. With a faraway look, one of longing, maybe, it’s easy to wonder: Is she singing about Ebra (Edwin Lee Gibson)? A lost love? Perhaps a knife? What else don’t we know about her? Much of the episode stays in this vein of remembrance of life aside, or before, the call of kitchen duty. Carmy hangs out, almost approaching fun; Ebra looks at the water, smokes, disappears. But Tina really digs deep and delivers on the heart-rending show-stopper of being there. Spanish is the loving tongue, as a wise man once said. From the crowd’s reaction, it appears true.

5. “Make You Happy,” Tommy McGee (episode 3, “Sundae”)

When it boils down to ’grammability, Google stars, Food Network competitions, Michelin stars, Eater listicle inclusion, when it is in fact our time’s new rock ’n’ roll, food enjoyment can be misconstrued. Namely, it can be easy to forget making food is supposed to be about making people happy. Enter the butterscotch falsetto of Tommy McGee, swooning, beseeching, as overtly earnest to please as a three-scoop clam-shell sundae boat at Margie’s Candies. The 90-year-plus American Graffiti-esque institution (the Beatles ate there after a concert in 1965) seems to remind of simpler times, easier pleasures, of leather booths and a table jukebox and sugar without guilt. A refrain timed perfectly to the moment of spoon insertion is a sweet and subtle rebuke of foodie culture try hard-isms. It is the literal cherry on top to Sydney’s Chicago day of research, inspiration, and delightful debauchery.

4. “The Things We Did Last Summer,” Dean Martin (episode 6, “Fishes”)

A portrait of martyrdom with a cigarette. The mounting climax of the ho-ho-ho-less holiday episode builds between Carmy and his mom (Jamie Lee Curtis), segues from tender to confrontational to a type of closeup terror nearly impossible to watch: the unblinking view of a concerned son on a wrinkled face besotted by the years and the wine and up-since-4 a.m. cooking and the fact that “nobody out there gives a shit about me.” Going full Mommie Dearest, Jamie Lee Curtis rebukes the house of disappointment and tension and booze: “I make things beautiful for them, and no one makes things beautiful for me.” And in the background is that peak Rat Pack croon, so smooth and schmaltzy it sounds like a stereotype. This entire hour hits like a substance-abused version of the McCallister’s pizza dinner, like a fever dream of Midwestern Oedipus, the worst possible realization of any family reunion trope. To contrast it all with the sentimentality and swelling strings of Gus Levene, the saccharine cheese of a yuletide hope like A Winter Romance, is to show the ultimate horror of home-for-the-holidays.

3. “Tezeta (Nostalgia),” Mulatu Astatke (episode 4, “Honeydew”)

The fluttery, wistful standout track from the Ethiopiques collection could be placed anywhere to imbue a dreamlike state of otherness, one that sounds like remembering a nearly forgotten love from a hammock, like a hazy and gentle summer afternoon that might not end. In other words, it’s as far from the rumble of the El or a burn from Richie as possible. Perfect for the wide shots of Marcus (Lionel Boyce) exploring Copenhagen, leafy and bucolic and soft, a picturesque canal and chicken sandwich, a marketplace and a garden outside Noma, and an off-the-vine berry view of the world through fresh, loving eyes. Meditative, nearly mournful, and yes, nostalgic, and yet full of warmth and the bright possibility of introspection, it’s hard not to hear Marcus finding himself between all those endless, breathy notes.

2. “You Are Not Alone,” Mavis Staples (episode 2, “Pasta”)

As Chicago a combo as crumbled sausage and giardiniera, Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy teamed up for two masterpiece albums, 2010’s You Are Not Alone and 2013’s One True Vine. “I Like The Things About Me,” from the latter, ends “Sundae” on a strident and self-affirming note. But this soft acoustic chugger from their first effort is a highlight, as it looks outward, offering moral support, a hand, friendship, unity, other things Coach K might speak on far less soulfully than it sounds here. Richie punches a hole in the ceiling, and covered in black dust and muck, looks to the heavens, asking, “That’s it?” To which there is indeed another shoe to drop. Ebra is chopping alone, and slow, in a cavernous and sterile kitchen; the to-do list looks interminable; Carmy is joylessly making sauce in a barren apartment. What is anybody doing here? The song is an openhearted plea, with all the possible poetry meant in “showing up.” It is the simplest of odes to the stubbornest of dear friends. Open up, this is a raid.

1. “The Show Goes On,” Bruce Hornsby and the Range (episode 1, “Beef”)

Unfortunately lumped into the dustbin of dad-rockery punchlines, Bruce Hornsby’s ’80s sheen and production bombast can sometimes distract from the piano work, voice, and tenderest of touches with penmanship. Turns out dad still knows a thing or two. From the dulcet tinkling and gorgeous intro over skyline shots of Chicago, to the on-the-nose refrain, to Ebra as the man with the “long face,” it is a pitch-perfect welcome back to the show (and the best use of Hornsby since the criminally underrated World’s Greatest Dad).

At its best, The Bear reminds and illuminates what makes a favorite place special, what makes it tick again and again, clarifies everything that has to keep going on for a beloved restaurant to remain so, behind all the gears and that swinging kitchen door. Or, it shows the perspective from back there: You are Carmy. Your brother is dead and you’ve never been to a party; you don’t know if your girlfriend is your “girlfriend”; you’ve given up so much, for the dream, for the vision, for the gold star bestowment of a French company that makes tires. For some roast beef. For the virtue of never forgetting what kind of mustard your restaurant orders. Everything was happening and all you had was knife skills and busted balls and the respite of a back-alley smoke break. Was it worth it? Ask the sad-eyed sisters. The summer’s all gone. Still, without you, the show goes on. Indeed.

This piece was originally published by The A.V. Club and was written by Todd Lazarski.

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