Indie folk lads turned arena rockers Bear’s Den balanced the intimacy of their early material with the seismic sounds of their later tunes at their most recent outing at Rock City.
Bear’s Den turned a pretty significant page with their last album, ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain.’ Similarly to their close associates Mumford & Sons, no longer were they North London indie heroes quietly playing banjos and reminiscing old tales of love and sorrow; their music became powered by synths and layered guitars, only on occasion returning to the sound which brought them attention on the independent scene. The latest tracks off their upcoming third LP ‘So that you might hear me’ very much reflect the middle ground between those styles, and their Rock City show had a little bit of both.
Boldly, the London duo, backed up by several musicians who were duly shouted out by lead singer Andrew Davie, opened with the first single from ‘So that you might hear me’ entitled ‘Fuel on the Fire.’ The mellow synths were backed out by staunch lighting and, though much of the audience didn’t seem too familiar with the lyrics, Bear’s Den clearly made a statement as to their confidence in the upcoming material.
The band took a few songs to really hit the room with a memorable cut from their discography, but when the opening acoustic guitar notes of ‘Berlin,’ a popular 2016 non-album track hit, the room seemed to shrink around Davie’s incredibly warm and personal vocals. “Berlin was all covered in snow/all I could offer was a hand to hold” was delivered with an emotional conviction that seemed to distance the frontman from the huge room of fans around him and, after the vaster cuts earlier in the set, ‘Berlin’ grounded the show with surety.
Bear’s Den’s material is at its best when it is serious and sincere, but the moment the audience urged Davie into a cover of Nelly Furtado’s ‘I’m Like a Bird’ was a welcome break from the intensity of their folk-rock ballads. Declaring it their first UK show in ages, the lead singer seemed comfortable and at home at Rock City, and his chat between songs bridged the gap between his ethereal songwriting and the live performance. The show was lengthy, but certainly had its highlights.
With no microphone at all, the band performed one of their biggest songs, ‘Sophie’ in a huddle on the stage. Once again the room shrank around them and whilst it didn’t achieve the singalong effect it perhaps would have benefited from, it instead created the kind of intimate vibe you could only get at Nottingham’s smallest venues.
Biased as I may be to the band’s first album ‘Islands,’ the highlights of the set for me without a doubt came in the encore. It’s been over four years since I first heard ‘Above the Clouds of Pompeii’ and ‘Agape,’ and they’ve cured many lost evenings and heavy hangovers so hearing them live for the first time was sublime.
Cushioned between the two moody folk anthems was a performance of one of the new singles, ‘Blankets of Sorrow’ which saw the band venture into the middle of the crowd to reprise the total acoustic effect of the earlier performance of ‘Sophie.’ Hearing the natural tones of the banjo from just a few metres away felt special and brought an organic charm to the show.
Bear’s Den’s Rock City show, while lengthy, contained all the heartfelt moments you’d hope for from a big folk-rock gig. Somehow managing to bring Rock City to a sweet silence on the strum of a guitar, we wait to see if Bear’s Den will channel that intimacy into their next studio album.