03/11/16 – O2 Academy
The first time I saw Bear’s Den was at the Vondelkerk in Amsterdam, June 2015. The atmosphere was magical when the three bearded men with chequered shirts and guitars, occasionally joined by a fourth with a trumpet, played their folky songs in the gorgeous converted church at the edge of the Vondelpark. Tonight, the O2 Academy provides a heavily different environment, more suitable to the band’s new sounds. What remains the same, however, is the incredible quality of the live performance and the honesty with which the songs are brought. And the beards, fortunately.
While the London folk rock band’s first album, Islands, is characterized by rhythmic, folky guitar-sounds and beautiful harmonies between the three members Andrew Davie, Kevin Jones and Joey Haynes, this is less so the case on their new album. Perhaps influenced by Haynes leaving the band to spend more time with family and friends, those harmonies are gone on Red Earth & Pouring Rain, released last summer. Bear’s Den second album sounds more mature and features atmospheric soundscapes and heavier guitars. This fits beautifully with the lighting during the set at the O2 Academy: the band is flooded in reds, purples, blues and an almost acidic green while spots move over the audience to create a simultaneously spectacular and intimate setting.
In terms of musical performance, the band is astonishing. Most songs sound exactly like they were recorded, but better. However, this does not mean Bear’s Den is putting on a lifeless performance or that there’s an absence of those unexpected moments that make gigs such an exciting experience. A recurring image is the three men with guitar or banjo coming together in the middle of the stage and playing with each other, sharing an intensity and passion for the music with the audience. During the encore, the band makes their way into the middle of the crowd to play and acoustic version of ‘Gabriel’, ending the night that is a wonderful mix between new songs and older work in a remarkable way.