Entering Cafe Campus on Monday night, the buzz is tangible. Fresh from selling out the 5000-capacity Brixton Academy in their native London, England (in local terms, that’s basically selling out Metropolis twice), Bear’s Den are back over this side of the pond for a run of significantly smaller shows in support of their new sophomore record “Red Earth & Pouring Rain,” and all in attendance no doubt feel privileged to have the band in the intimate confines of Cafe Campus. The last time I was in here was to see Alt-J, just as they were in the process of taking off, and you get the sense that Bear’s Den are following a similar trajectory.
A spooky science-fiction-like intro starts the show, and rumbles on for a few minutes while blue spotlights swirl around the stage, before Bear’s Den arrive and launch into Red Earth and Pouring Rain and then Emeralds, the two tracks that open the new record. Frontman Andrew Davie then addresses the crowd simply with “we’re Bear’s Den, it’s an honour to be back in this building,” in reference to their last visit here at the much smaller Petit Campus venue downstairs.
Elysium, from 2014 debut record “Islands,” is up next. With an atmospheric drum intro and haunting mandolin that leads into a soft trumpet outro, it’s a beautifully crafted song, and sounds tremendous in the live setting. Greenwoods is up next, and brings expertly-crafted harmonies into the mix from multi-instrumentalist and band co-founder Kevin Jones, and touring member Christof van der Ven. The crowd is entranced, although a peculiar group of girls in the middle, who seem to love the band judging by their singing, also seem intent on talking during songs and, even more weirdly, filming Snapchat videos of themselves watching the gig, and of course, pouting a lot. Strange.
Andrew then addresses the crowd to enquire if anyone was there the last time they played, at Petit Campus. Of course, far more than could possibly have fit into Petit Campus scream back, but nonetheless, Andrew takes their word for it and calls them all “Legends!” With genuine sincerity, he admits that he had no idea so many people would be here tonight. Stubborn Beast then begins, with its soft acoustic intro allowing the voices of the crowd to join in and contribute to the atmosphere, before the mandolin and drums join in midway through. Afterwards, again, Andrew still seems shocked at the size of the crowd, exclaiming “its genuinely amazing to see you all, like, we had no idea!”
Isaac, with its soft, acoustic intro, follows next, and as the chorus arrives, and Andrew begins to sing the first of four “I’m going to give all my love to you”, he notes the enthusiasm of the crowd, gradually singing the line quieter and quieter to allow the crowd to sing it louder and louder; Andrew manages to squeeze in another “legends!” before the next verse begins.
The show then goes up a notch with the announcement that the next song, Sophie, will be done without microphones, or indeed any instrument amplification. Everyone quietens down, even the Snapchatters, and the band dazzle with their raw delivery. The room is absolutely silent, save for the band, and this remains the case, until the conclusion of the song, at which point the silence is obliterated by a hail of screams from the predominantly female audience.
The Love We Stole and Love Can’t Stand Alone follow next, and then Andrew thanks touring member Christoph, who was apparently their support act the last time they played! After that show, due to unexplained border crossing issues, he spent 3 days stranded in Montreal, and ended up getting a tattoo of the word “Montreal” on his left breast. Of course, the girls scream when this is revealed! Roses On A Breeze and Fortress come next, followed by a rousing rendition of the classic Auld Wives, with Andrew’s forceful delivery of “I call your naaaame!!” and “Who are youuuuu?!!!!” reverberating across the room. He then states that “this is the last song, there’s absolutely no way we’ll come back and do 3 or 4 more songs,” obviously jokingly, before initiating another huge singalong in the form of Above The Clouds Of Pompeii.
They unsurprisingly return to the stage amidst the customary chants of “olé olé olé,” and the encore begins with Napoleon, which fades out emotively with both the touring drummer and keyboardist harmonizing softly with trumpets, and then Dew On The Vine, with more 3-piece harmonies added to by the crowd. For Gabriel, they elect to go unplugged again, but this time in the middle of the floor, which again sounds glorious in conjunction with the complete silence of the crowd. Upon returning to the stage, Andrew states definitively that “this is our last song…we ran outta songs!” You really sense they’re enjoying themselves tonight, and would indeed play all night if they could! The crowd would certainly have no problem with that either, judging by their reaction, as they sing along furiously to set closer Agape. Full credit to the band, 1 hour 40 mins and 17 songs from just 2 albums is good value by anyone’s standards!
As the house lights come up and the crowd files out, Tears For Fears 1984 classic “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” comes on over the PA. Good timing; you get the sense that Bear’s Den are on their way to doing just that.
Red Earth and Pouring Rain
The Love We Stole
Love Can’t Stand Alone
Roses On a Breeze
Above the Clouds of Pompeii
Dew on the Vine
Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Steve Gerrard