Live Review Bear’s Den @ Roundhouse
English alternative folk band Bear’s Den played their biggest headline show to date to a sold-out crowd at London’s 3,300 capacity Roundhouse on the closing their run of shows in support of debut studio album Islands, which was released a year ago on Communion Records, the label founded by Bear’s Den drummer and bass player Kevin Jones along with Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett back in 2006.
The tour follows a busy summer of festivals for the band including stand-out sets at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, Spain’s BBK Live in Bilbao as well as an Avalon stage appearance at Glastonbury and Festival Republic stage sets at twin festivals Reading & Leeds in the UK.
Hailing from the same West London folk scene as Mumford & Sons, Noah & The Whale and Laura Marling, their music is unashamedly English, folk without trying to be Country, incorporating banjos without the Bluegrass undertones. Uplifting harmonies and steely lyrics drive their music along with Andrew Davie’s soft vocals, which seem to indicate the Londoner is in fact from somewhere in Scotland.
With Islands just ten songs deep, a headline show had to reach beyond. And so tracks from their Without/Within EP were mined along with the North London crowd being treated to a selection of newer material. The set was opened with mellow Islands’ song Elysium, followed by Agape EP track Mother, featuring a stunning trumpet solo from touring band member Marcus Hamblett.
“Hello! It’s a real pleasure to be here London, our home town” beaming frontman Andrew Davie said before the band broke into Within/Without track Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away.
“We’ve been on road for about a month now”, the 27-year-old front man shared with the audience, “and it’s all led up to tonight.” “It’s also just about a year since we released our debut album Islands” he continued, “so we’re going to play a couple of songs from that album!”
Following the gentle nodding induced in the crowd with banjo-heavy Magdalene, drummer Kevin Jones traded places with banjoist Joey Haynes, strapping on a bass and taking up vocal position leaving Haynes behind one of the two drum kits on stage, the multi-instrumentalist members of the band never sitting still in any one allocated position.
“If it’s ok with you, we would like to try and play you a new song now” the affable frontman requested, introducing Red Earth And Pouring Rain. “We wrote it about a month or so ago.”
Addressing their audience once more, Londoner Davie shook up the stage arrangement: “we’re going to try something a bit different, we’re going to play around one microphone.” The extended band then all descended around a central microphone for Without/Within track Sophie, a Country music writers circle type vibe overtaking the circular venue.
“We’ve been thinking about this show and getting scared about this show for ages, so that its finally happening is amazing so thank you” said Davie, expressing just how important the tour-closing London show was for the band. The main set was closed out with Islands tracks Sahara and the Ivor Novello-nominated Above The Clouds Of Pompeii, Haynes taking up his banjo once more, having traded it for a guitar earlier in the set.
“London we have some bad news, this is going to be our last song” Davie said ahead of Pompeii. “I’m really sorry to say, this is definitely our last song” a grin spreading across the frontman’s face. “Unless there’s some crazy format where bands leave the stage and come back on” he continued, making fun of the encore tradition. The bearded trio then left the stage only to reappear in the centre of the former Great Circular Engine House to kick off their three-song encore with Islands closer Bad Blood.
Expressing his humour once more, Davie addressed the audience again, “So London we owe you an apology for lying about the last song earlier, but in the same breath, this really is our last song.” Expressing the band’s love of touring he continued: “we’ve come to the end of our tour, which is really sad for us, touring is the best part of this.” Thanking the crowd one final time he continued: “This is higher & further than we ever thought we’d get as a band, so thank you”.
The 16-song set was closed out with Islands opener Agape which garnered the biggest cheer of the night and had the entire venue singing along. While similarities to Mumford & Sons might be challenging to escape, given the two bands close association, the Bear’s Den trio comfortably fill a void left following the bigger band’s ascension to mainstream rock this year with their enduring folk-driven tunes featuring banjos aplenty.
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