I have to say, one of the fruits of deepening my spiritual life has been an increasing detachment from some of my old loves, including concerts. I debated for a few weeks whether I even wanted to go to this concert; when I bought the ticket back in October I was super gung-ho about the show, but as the day grew closer I started to feel less and less excited. But I’m glad I ultimately decided to make the hour-and-a-half trek up to Columbus to see one of my favorite bands, the English duo Bear’s Den.
I’ve written about Bear’s Den before, most recently in praise of their latest album, the brooding and brilliant Red Earth and Pouring Rain. And I’ve seen them live a few times, but not since 2014, before they went the 80s-ish synth-rock route. I’ve been curious about how their ever-evolving sound would play live. Luckily for me, after one missed opportunity to see them in Columbus in September, they’re back on tour, and they returned to Columbus last week.
The last time I saw Bear’s Den live was nearly 3 years ago in a tiny rock club in Madison, Wisconsin, in support of their third EP, Without/Within. Since then they’ve released two full-length albums and have won over many more fans, so they’ve graduated from tiny clubs and have moved on to larger venues. Their Columbus venue had a capacity of 1700 and was pretty full even though it didn’t sell out. I’ve been following Bear’s Den for a few years now, so I felt a bit like a proud mama when I realized they were playing a venue at least four or five times bigger than where I saw them last.
After singer/songwriter Gill Landry (formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show) warmed up the stage with his finger-picked Americana sound, Bear’s Den started their set at about 9pm. Not only was their venue different than the last place I saw them, but the band itself had undergone some changes, too. Lead singer/guitarist Andrew Davie and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Kevin Jones were no longer joined by banjoist Joey Haynes (he left the band about a year ago) but by three additional musicians who play at their live sets. Gone are the days that Kevin Jones had to pluck his bass guitar while playing drums–their fuller, electric sound now necessitates a bigger touring outfit! Though their hour-and-a-half set focused mostly on their Red Earth and Pouring Rain album, they included plenty of old favorites and a few surprises.
Here are some highlights:
- A few songs in, the band asked if they could play a song completely unplugged and with no microphones. Davie, Kevin, and their new banjoist (Kristoff? Christoff? I’m not sure of the spelling) unplugged and played “Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away.” The crowd was totally silent (except for those who quietly sang along with the chorus) and I could hear them perfectly from where I stood, near the back of the main floor. It was magical.
- At one point the guys explained that in their free time they liked attempting the water bottle flip challenge and that Kristoff had been trying it at all their North American shows so far, with a success rate of less than 50%. The trick was successful at the Columbus show, much to the band’s and the crowd’s delight.
- Their electric songs like “Emeralds,” “The Love that We Stole,” and “Dew On the Vine” rocked really hard. The band’s stage chemistry was great and they were clearly having fun with their electric sound. My acoustic folk lads have grown up. *tear*
- The crowd joined the band in singing the chorus of “Isaac,” one of their better-known tunes and a quieter song. Beautiful.
- They played “Stubborn Beast,” which first appeared on their secret debut EP and was revamped for their first album Islands, but that Davie said they really had never really figured out how to play live. I don’t know what Davie was talking about; it sounded like they had it down. So lovely.
- They also played “When You Break,” from their Agape EP and from Islands. I had never heard that one live. It also rocked hard. What a treat.
- After Davie insisted that “Above the Clouds of Pompeii” (another well-known track) would be their last song, they returned to the stage with “Napoleon” and then unplugged and played “Gabriel” from the middle of the crowd. Gorgeous.
- During their current tour, they’ve been taking suggestions from fans for songs they should cover at each tour stop, songs that are about the city or the state or songs written by natives of the city or state. In Columbus they covered a song called “Ohio” by Damien Jurado. It was lovely.
- They closed their set with their beloved tune “Agape.” Perfect ending.
I fell in love with Bear’s Den when they were fairly new to the U.S. music scene and when their music consisted mostly of intimate folk ballads. At their Columbus show, though, I found myself thinking “wow, they’re a rock band!” several times. But the warmth and intimacy was still there throughout the show, from Davie’s genuine graciousness for their fans to the silence that filled the venue when the band unplugged for a few songs to the sweet harmonies during songs like “Love Can’t Stand Alone” and “Isaac.” They may be a rock band, but they still know how to draw an audience in for those quieter moments. They’re definitely the same lads that I found a few years ago.
Bear’s Den will be in North America for just a few more weeks before heading to Europe in March for a tour. Check out their website for their upcoming shows!