Bear’s Den – 22/3/17 – The Lemon Grove, Exeter
The opening shimmer of “Red Earth & Pouring Rain”, the title track of the band’s newly released album, signals the arrival of Bear’s Den to The Lemon Grove. Anticipation increases as the atmospheric introduction plays on, until finally, in an eruption of red light and guitar synth, Bear’s Den launches into a faultless 17-song set.
Andrew Davie and Kev Jones, frontmen, are joined by four touring musicians to make up a six-piece unit complete with guitar, drums, brass and synths. Red Earth & Pouring Rain has a distinctly different sound to the band’s first, acoustically driven, album, Islands, and it’s on newer tracks that the inclusion of brass and synth in their line-up really shines. Jones explains the new album’s sound perfectly, stating: “We wanted to make a great album for driving at night . . . a good metaphor for the mood is the idea of driving forwards while looking in the rear-view mirror.” The relentless throb of “Auld Wives” showcases the new sound that Bear’s Den have explored and nailed in their new album.
Their beautifully atmospheric rendition of “Gabriel”, rich with soaring harmonies that the audience can’t help but join in with, is a reminder that, although the duo has evolved since Islands, their folk roots live on. As Jones acknowledges, Bear’s Den might be moving forward, but they remain indebted to their humble beginnings
This humility radiates from the pair as they step away from the mic to perform a fully unplugged version of “Her Tears”. An awed hush ripples through the audience as heartfelt lyrics, accompanied by restrained trumpets, pour from Davie. You almost feel like an intruder listening in. “Thanks for letting us do that, Exeter”, says Davie, laughter quivering in his voice. He appears disbelieving of the captivated audience in front of him.
We are then pulled from our melancholy with an epic performance of “The Love We Stole”. The track, from Islands, harks back to the band’s earlier sound. A bittersweet folky, singalong which grows from pared back opening verses to an explosive hymnal chorus.
The crowd erupts as the guitar-picked introduction to “Above the Clouds of Pompeii”, a song nominated for the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically in 2015, begins. We’ve been waiting for this one. We settle down and let the lyrics rip through our hearts. There are tears . . . lots of them. The song builds to a crescendo and collectively the band and audience sing. It is life affirming and tragic at the same time.
At this, Davie announces that they are to leave us. We protest. He jokes: “Don’t worry, we’re just going to stand in the corridor for 20 seconds and then come back again”. However, his conscious self-deprecation doesn’t shatter the magic. We eagerly await the band’s return from their self-confessed wait in the corridor and when they do we are treated with the pounding “Sahara”.
Davie and Jones step away from the mic again, this time to venture into the midst of the crowd. An intimate circle forms around them and the audience is silent. “I fucked it, yeah I fucked it, and I fucked it”, they sing. Far from it. Something special has happened here.
Upon returning to the stage Davie announces “We’ve run out of songs” and they launch into their final song, “Agape”, a fan favourite.
The use of banjos and trumpets invites comparisons to Mumford and Sons, while Davie’s voice has hints of Snowpatrol’s Gary Lightbody. However, Bear’s Den is never derivative. Intensely personal lyrics, propulsive energy, and flawless transitions between atmospheric tear-jerkers and heady full-band anthems make Bear’s Den stand out in a sea of emerging folk-rock bands.
Special mention must also go to Banfi, who supported Bear’s Den. Their music, described as spiky, dramatic pop, warmed the crowd up for the headline yet very much deserved a stage of its own.