I had the pleasure of seeing Bear’s Den perform at Concorde 2 in Brighton a few years ago, and it is still one of my favourite gigs to date. Although I was looking forward to seeing them in Exeter, I had slightly lower expectations. As much as I enjoyed their new album, I was worried that their new music wouldn’t have the same effect as their previous album, which was much folkier and suited to live performance. Also, I was sad to see that the trio I saw in Brighton were now a duo, as Joey Haynes left the band early last year.
I was completely proven wrong. Their performance was absolute class and certainly pleased the sold-out Lemmy. They informed the crowd that this was their first show in Exeter, having pleaded with their manager for some time to come down here. They even joked that this was the reason they were nervous. The subsequent “aws” from the crowd, however, quickly turned to laughter as Kevin Jones said, “Don’t feel sorry for me!”
The set-list was a perfect mix of old and new. The band opened with the title track of the new album, making a definite statement about their artistic progression in the progress. As Lemmy’s background music faded out, a silent crowd listened to the building synth for about a minute before the band emerged on stage. Was this a bit of a cheesy move to build up anticipation in an already-excited audience? Perhaps. But the performance was well worth it. For me, their new album Red Earth and Pouring Rain had some brilliant tracks, but somewhat lacked the energy of their earlier music. However, on stage the tracks really came to life. The band are natural-born performers and every lyric, every guitar strum was fueled with energy and passion.
We were also treated to some older, well-loved tracks. Lead vocalist Andrew Davie introduced one of their first ever songs Stubborn Beast, which they apparently “never really worked out how to play it live”. Even so, the band executed the track perfectly, with a drumbeat so powerful you could – cliché warning – practically feel in your soul. The crowd were more familiar with, and possibly more enthused by, the old tracks (there was a brilliant chorus of voices belting out the reprise of Isaac) but the variation of old and new made for an exciting set list.
Although I loved the energy behind the tracks, my favourite songs were those the band chose to perform unplugged and without mics. We were treated to a particularly special moment when three band members came into the middle of the crowd to perform Bad Blood. The band created a very special atmosphere, the combination of colourful smoke and the simplicity of just an instrument and a voice was a match made in heaven. I hope that Bear’s Den always play such intimate gigs because you can tell how much they value performance and creating a connection with their audience.
After some hilarity about how the band definitely weren’t going to “walk off stage and then stand in the corridor for 30 seconds before coming back on”, we were treated to a four-song encore. Their newest song Berlin was followed by Gabriel. After the unplugged Bad Blood, the band finished off with the well-loved Agape. I was slightly disappointed that no covers were included in the set-list, as their interpretations of songs are always really special, but I think their hour and a half long set definitely satisfied the crowd.
I also have to mention their brilliant support Banfi. The three piece band gave a really confident, enjoyable performance. I’m still struggling to place their sound, but I’d say there is a definite alt-j/Bombay Bicycle Club style about their music. I’d definitely like to see more of them.
Photo credit: The Show Last Night.