By Polly Denny
Bear’s Den have been on the rise in the UK indie scene since the release of their first album ‘Islands’ in 2014. Since then they have gathered something of a cult following and brought out two more albums, ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain’ in 2016, and most recently ‘So That You Might Hear Me’ earlier this year. It is this new material that is the central focus, and showcased beautifully, on their current tour which began this month in Oxford, and is set to continue across Spain, Germany, Denmark and many others.
The Cardiff date of this tour was held in Tramshed, a grade II listed building with imposing red brick walls and massive windows, which was once the old tram depot in West Cardiff’s old industrial quarter. A crowd was already gathering when I arrived, despite the doors not opening for another half hour and the cold of the November evening, but the fairy lights weaving over the terrace and the fireworks from a local display gave out a warm and welcoming atmosphere. As more people arrived, the big thing I noticed was the variety of people. Something about Bear’s Den manages to transcend the idea of demographics, I saw teenagers with parents, families with young children, and groups of friends of all ages. This created a really lovely sense of community and intimacy despite the venue size.
The night kicked off with up and comers Flyte, who have supported bands like Bombay Bicycle Club and The Lemon Twigs. Flyte were a joy to watch, bringing a gentle grace and playfulness to their stripped back acoustic set with swaying melodies, cartwheeling harmonies and perfect synchronicity. The energy and life they managed to bring to the room was incredible, especially given that they had just stepped off the plane from america on their own tour. These boys have their second album coming out soon so are definitely worth keeping an eye on.
In the time after the support act had finished about ten guitars found their way onto the stage, swiftly followed by six men. This was something of a surprise seeing as that was already more men than I had expected, and yet still not enough to use all the guitars. Turns out the main duo, Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones, are touring with 4 session musicians on drums and trumpet, synth, bass and guitar to create their unique sound.
I must admit that this was not the first time I have seen Bear’s Den live, and I am always impressed with their fearless experimentation. The band has moved through folk, indie and rock, included brass, string and synth and yet never lost their distinctive sound. They have also never lost their very effective performance style, which pushes the energy from one extreme to the other in an incredibly short space of time. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions which throws the audience around in a very precise and intentional way. There are dramatic lighting changes from one song to the next, occasionally chilled acoustic pieces will be accompanied by strobing neon, some songs are played completely unplugged, and others are done in and amongst the audience.
This incredible control of the energy in the room is one of the things that make Bear’s Den such a joy to watch, however this did feel a little more slack than usual and sometimes left the crowd a little confused and directionless. This might stem from the shift we’ve seen from a polyphonic to a more monophonic style, giving more of a wall of sound effect with ‘So That You Might Hear Me’ which means the audience has less to hold to than earlier albums, and this lack of connection meant the audience were less able to flow with the extreme changes in dynamic.
Overall, it was lovely to see Bear’s Den return to Cardiff, the city were they first formed. This new evolution of their sound is an interesting and exciting step for them which works beautifully on the album, however, possibly isn’t shown to it’s full potential in a live setting. Nonetheless, it was still a beautifully done and intimate evening, full of charisma, personality and fun.