Live Review: Bear's Den - O2 Guildhall, Southampton 17/04/2019
If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to have your heart swell and break at the same time, a Bear’s Den gig should have you covered. The London boys put on a sickeningly sweet show in Southampton and I can guarantee not one person left disappointed. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I watched the room fill up for what was bound to be a very relaxed and mellow show. There was a part of me that worried that the crowd would stand dead still and the night could become boring, but the magic that Bears Den managed to fill the air with immediately made that concern feel pretty stupid.
One-woman band Tusks took the stage first, and plunged the crowd straight into a beautiful set of mesmerising and often dark music. There’s a melancholy feeling about Tusks’ tracks that immediately reminded me of Daughter’s Elena Tonra, with a slightly sharper edge. Covering Foal’s ‘London Thunder’, Tusks draws the room in with her laid back sound, managing to strip back such a huge song to just a guitar and vocals without losing one little bit of its charm. There’s something very unique about Tusk’s songs - none of them fit into a standard verse, bridge, chorus, repeat pattern and her haunting vocals lend themselves perfectly to a style that is just truly captivating. Holding the audience for so long when you are just one woman with a guitar cannot be an easy task, but Tusks manages it with grace and raw talent.
After an almost too long intro, Bear’s Den finally took to the stage to open with new track Fuel on the Fire. The track is more effect heavy than the Bear’s Den sound we are used to, so when they go straight back into acoustic guitars and banjos with Elysium next, the crowd are overjoyed. The setlist is a glorious combination of everything Bear’s Den have ever released, from their folksy debut Islands to the bigger and more modern sound they found with their second album, Red Earth & Pouring Rain. Never one to shy away from deeply emotive lyrics, the set was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. With every heartbreaking song played, there would be a track up next that would make you smile at the very first chord. This setlist was clearly very well thought out, and it kept the crowd constantly engaged and watching in awe.
The highlight of the evening has to be the moment when, mid set, Andrew announces they’d like to do a song without any microphones or amps, and the band step to the front of the stage to perform Sophie completely unplugged. The room fell silent as Bears Den played a stripped back version of one of their earliest tracks and the crowd hung on every word. This is when the evening kicked up a notch and became something that you feel honoured to be a part of. The rest of the night continued with a renewed sense of magic in the air as each track rolled into the next.
Their three song encore was the perfect end to the night. Blankets of Sorrow, one of the first songs to be released from their forthcoming album, So That You Might Hear Me, was another unplugged beauty, but this time the band treated fans by wondering into the middle of the crowd and playing it right there. Unless you were right in the middle with them, you probably couldn’t see them, and this somehow made it even more special, as the room just stood and listened to an intimate rendition of what is already a touching song. Of course, the night ended with Agape, and as the full band kicked back in and the crowd sung along my heart (and I can’t be the only one) was left feeling full. Bear’s Den are an incredible band of talented musicians creating music that makes you feel every emotion imaginable, and to see them live is a truly special experience.
Words and Photography by Megan Smith