Striding out to the menacing music of ‘The Terminator’, Kevin Jones and Andrew Davie from Bear’s Den, ironically are two of most unintimidating characters in the business. Perhaps, that’s why they chose that particular intro score. Their lyrics, however, are often on that darker, more introspective level. They go to places in their songs that many of us are afraid to visit. This sold-out performance at the Eventim Apollo in west London was a classy climax at the tail-end of their ‘So That You Might Hear Me’ tour.
I saw them perform at the Limelight in Belfast, almost a year ago, just weeks prior to the release of their third and latest album. That was an altogether different setting, both in terms of scale at over 5,000 people in capacity on this occasion and in the number of band members on-stage; they had now grown to an eight-piece. Even at this level though, the band always seems to be able to find that ability to connect intimately with their adoring audience - a real gift.
They opened with two tracks from their 2016 album, ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’. At the end of ‘Broken Parable’, lead-singer Davie greeted the crowd in his understated, self-deprecating manner - “Hello Hammersmith - it’s a fucking massive honour to be here”, and you really believed him. The show is something of a home-coming for this London duo where they last headlined the same venue three years ago.
It was great to hear a couple of older songs from their ‘Without/Within EP’, notably the mesmerising ‘Don't Let The Sun Steal You Away’. The song contains some beautifully real lyrics - “...and I don't want to touch you in the night if I cannot hold you in the day. But as the sun slowly rises your love for me decays…”
For the next two tracks from their recently-aired Christmas EP, ‘Only Son of the Falling Snow’, Kevin Jones retreats from the limelight to his seat at the piano. ‘The Star of Bethnal Green’ sounds particularly poignant and relevant in this London setting.
The haunting and grief-ridden ‘Crow’ is the first outing from the ‘So That You Might Hear Me’ album. Davie has recently opened up about this song and the heart-breaking journey of his own loss of his Mum’s boyfriend that he had become very close to that left the family and then passed away a short time after that. Personally, I think this piece of writing really encapsulates so much of Bear’s Den’s music - sadness, honesty, with unairing rays of hope.
‘Isaac’ from their debut release ‘Islands’ gets the stripped-back, no-mic treatment - a style which has become a real hallmark of their live performances. The surprise appearance of the evening is ‘Evangeline’ from their current album where Davie confesses that “we’re now gonna play a song that we’ve only played live once before”. A return to ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’ sees the brilliant and more rock-laden tunes of ‘Fortress’ and the rousing ‘Auld Wives’. He seems genuinely choked-up and emotional as the final notes of ‘Laurel Wreath’ fade out to the rapture of the crowd.
As Davie re-appears for the encore, he coyly apologises, “sorry for lying”, after declaring the previous song as their last. ‘Blankets of Sorrow’ - is a song that addresses the challenge of depression amidst relationships and the difficulty of being able to reach someone that has succumbed to this crippling illness. The song is made that much more stark being sung completely acoustically with no musical support. The beautiful ‘Above the Clouds of Pompeii’ and the anthemic ‘Agape’ bring this special night at The Apollo to a close. The crowd rise to their feet in appreciation of these eight humble musicians that can say so much to us about everyday life and love with their superb musical endeavours.