Live Review: Bear's Dean & Banfi - O2 Academy, Oxford 23/03/2017
As I approached the venue there was already a fair amount of eager and very cold fans queuing, begging with security to open the doors as the wind was bitterly cold for an early spring night. Finally, 10 minutes later than scheduled, the doors were opened and the super fans made their way through the increasingly familiar body scan by security and into the 1,000 capacity venue.
I was just as excited to see the opening act, BANFI as I was the to see Bears Den. I have only heard positive things and have been monitoring them now for the past six months and I can see a great future ahead for the alt/folk/pop rockers.. With a stage presence, drawing comparisons to Robert Plant, lead singer and guitarist, Joe Banfi, opened the set by going straight into the song “Answers” and flowing through into “She Comes Home”. Introducing the new listeners to their early back catalogue before playing more familiar tunes like “Happy When You Go” and “Where We Part”, and drawing their set to a close with their new single “Rosedale House”.
Banfi have a way of pulling you into their songs with vocals so gentle and soulful, not unlike the artist, Gotye. But with songs like “Future”, halfway through the penultimate song they explode into a beautiful crescendo of emotional cries of “Call me when you get here” accompanied by guitar synths that just lift you up and keep you there until Joe decides he wants to set you back down to earth. The crowd really started to engage by this point and people around me were saying by the end of Rosedale House just how awesome the band were!
Joe Banfi has been a long time friend of Bears Den and so it's no surprise that the band is signed to Communion Records. They will be doing the festival circuit this year and will be back in Oxford for Truck Festival and again in September, when they embark on a national tour. Tickets are already on sale for their London show at The Lexington so check them out if you get the chance and you feel like falling in love.
So, with such a strong opening act the crowd are geared up and eager to be swept off their feet again by the mesmerising Bears Den! Opening with the title track of the new album “Red Earth & Pouring Rain”, I really wished I could just stand back and enjoy the song instead of photographing it, which is something you don't hear me say very often. You just can't help but throw your head back and belt out “It's just you and I love” but knowing all to well that your attempt is no match to the supreme vocals of lead singer, Andrew Davie.
Their stage set up was befitting the grandeur of their music, brilliant white spotlights shone through from under the riser that supported their drummer. The B & D monogram, sprawled across a banner draping the back of the stage, lit by the familiar red and blue colours that feature on their album artwork. My limit on photographing the first three songs was over and fortunately the fourth song was “Greenwoods of Bethlehem”, my favourite song of the album, I was able to stand back and admire such musical brilliance. Andrew began, plucking the strings of the acoustic guitar, singing softly while the electric guitar twangs away in the background before the drum synths kick in and the powerful emotional ballad throws you back to how the 80's should have sounded. I just imagine I am stood on a street corner, outside a disused cotton mill, dimly lit street lights line the path, rain hurling down, waiting for my lover to pull up in his classic green Ford Cortina.
I'm a hopeless romantic at heart and unsurprisingly the crowd was filled with loving couples of all ages. Halfway through the gig an elderly silver haired man stood to give his seat to his partner, draping his arm over her shoulder while she took the wait of her feet. It is safe to say though that Bears Den don't just cater to couples, there were some all men troupes thoroughly enjoying themselves too, one man often shouting words of praise during the quiet in between the songs.
One of the many beautiful moments of the night was when the band requested silence from the crowd so they could play the heart breaking “Her Tears” completely acoustic, no mics and no amps. After much hushing from the crowd, Andrew knocking over a bottle of beer on the dimly lit stage, a stage hand coming out to mop up the spillage. Eventually the room fell silent... the band began singing, it was so beautiful and so intimate.
“No, I am not perfect / Not even close / No, I am not the one / That her heart chose”
The crowd were jolted back into normal service with the sounds of rolling symbols leading into the next song, “The Love That We Stole”, a fine example of a song that blends all the voices of the band together, making the crowd sway in unison.
Following on was the song “Berlin”, another song that pulls at my heart strings. Described as a song they wrote in late 2016 and played only on tour, it is a delicate song which evokes a story of life's struggles felt by a loved one, and being there to hold their hand, to support them through the dark times...
“So we made our way to the memorial / You traced your hand along the wall / When they put on the video / I felt your hand tighten in mine“
Bears Den are a special band in that they have the ability to evoke such vivid stories to accompany their music. The whole album takes you on a very worth while journey, leaving you feeling inspired and wishing you could create such beauty. Other crowd favourites of the night were the hand clapping Jeruselum, the “F*ing” brilliant “Gabriel” as quoted by shouty man in the crowd, and then we get to the Encore. Andrew insisted that “Above The Clouds Of Pompeii” was going to be their final final song, truly the last song of the night. They joked how they didn't want to wait off the side of the stage next to a unpleasant smelling toilet before coming back on to the stage... Well, they lied. They were quite convincing liars it seems, as a small number of stragglers at the back left. Sadly these guys missed out on a great treat.
Before capping the superb night of with long time classic Agape, the band joined us out in the crowd to perform another acoustic song, “Bad Blood”, much to the delight of the crowd. Taking the intimacy of the night to a whole new level as the crowd joined them in singing along word for word...
What a way to end such a mesmerising gig.
Support live music, make the effort to see a band like this live, you will leave the gig in a completely different frame of mind, I promise you.
Words and Photography by Rachel Prew