Bear’s Den at the Hammersmith Apollo – 05.04.2017

On home turf, Bear’s Den showcase their folk-rooted sounds at a sold out Hammersmith Apollo.

Brief and honourable mention to enigmatic support act Seramic. With his abundance of soul and questionable dance moves, he and his eclectic band put on an almost show-stealing funk-filled display. If Jack Garratt and D’Angelo somehow had a lovechild that lovechild would be Seramic. Or if Chet Faker was a Russian doll, Seramic would be one of the pieces inside.

However, the night belonged to Bear’s Den. Recently reduced to two hairy mammals, Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones, but surrounded by four talented multi-instrumentalists, they utilized atmospheric 2016 album, Red Earth & Pouring Rain as the gigs’ centre-piece. With its brooding electric feel filling the vast venue, the title track was an apt opener, and songs like Emeralds and Auld Wives entrancingly emanated throughout the Eventim Apollo.

The band aired December’s stand-alone single, Berlin, and Bear’s Den loyalists will welcome the return to the sound of superb debut, Islands, as a banjo-orientated number. Largely neglected on Red Earth & Pouring Rain, dropped completely by folk titans Mumford & Sons for their most recent effort, the pleasurable plucking on Berlin, Isaac and New Jerusalem prove it’s an instrument not limited to buck-toothed, tobacco-chewing, dungaree-sporting hillbillies utilizing their extra fingers to best effect.

Frontman, Davie’s lyrics and honest vocals give the impression that he’s both a hopeless romantic and that he’s had his heart ripped out of his chest, put through a shredder and then fed to ravenous dogs, such are the tragic words that are even more heartbreaking when heard in person. This allows emotionally-charged sing-a-longs to Above the Clouds of Pompeii and Stubborn Beast, and builds to a riotous set-stealing When You Break. While we are treated to a fair share of the new album, it’s this material from Islands that is best received by the London crowd.

Davie was visibly overwhelmed by the deafening ovation that welcomed the band back onto the stage for their encore. Lost for words, a stripped-back rendition of Bad Blood minus microphones completely reduced the 5,000 strong crowd to silence. A rousing finale of very first single, the now-anthemic Agape, concluded a triumphant evening before the Bear’s retreated into hibernation, ending their biggest British tour to date.

I spoke to Bear’s Den back in November, you can hear that interview and see that awful photo here:

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Blossoms O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire 13.12.2016

Let’s be honest, 2016 has been a year to forget for most. For obvious reasons. The same cannot be said, however, for Stockport band Blossoms. While the sanity of mankind has clearly plummeted, with a number one debut album along with a fair few air miles as a result of their unrelenting touring schedule, Blossoms’ career has soared. It certainly seems like a life time ago that Blossoms were on the grind, acting as their own roadies and playing in small rooms in places like Leamington Spa, Guildford and Kingston. No disrespect to these venues but they are relatively insignificant (if I was being cynical)/humble (if I was being nice) in the career of musicians, compared to a sold out date at the Shephards Bush Empire like tonight. In February I wrote of the Leamington gig, ‘It is unquestionable that this was a unique opportunity to catch a band destined for greatness in such intimate surroundings.’ I guess I was right.

The band emerged onstage to Kanye West’s Black Skinhead, ironic as the five piece are anything but, quite easily being mistaken for auditionees for a Head & Shoulders television advert such are their trademark luscious locks. Rattling through hits such as At Most A Kiss, Blown Rose and Getaway, it could have felt as though Blossoms were on a mission to finish before ten and get some Christmas shopping done before the stores in Westfield closed. However, the band demonstrated their growing confidence and live experience as the anthemic Blow provided a good opportunity for a crowd call and response, and later, Polka Dot Bones allowed them to throw off the disco shackles and simply ‘rock out’.

This growing confidence emanated throughout the band as towering frontman, Tom Ogden, strutted and sneered self-assuredly, and Joe Donavon whacked his drums emphatically. Either side of Ogden, lead guitarist Joshua Dewhurst and bassist Charlie Salt remained unmoved throughout the 70 minute set. It’s this arrogance that’s both striking and endearing about the band. They’re a band doing all the right things and they know it. Lest we forget Myles Kellock on keys and synth quietly going about his work transforming the band’s sound into, what is currently, the most danceable indie rock band in the country. Never is this more evident than when Honey Sweet recovers the set from the slight lull of set-filler, sure to be wiped from all memory once album number two is out, Fourteen.

Being Christmas, the night took a festive turn with a sing-a-long to Last Christmas, making up an enjoyable medley alongside Babybird’s You’re Gorgeous and Oasis’s Half The World Away. This followed Ogden’s solo serenade of the crowd with break-up single My Favourite Room. Charlemagne, undoubtedly one of the songs of the year, a bonafide dancefloor hit plucked from a 1980s musical mind, provided the obvious finale and made sure all went home satisfied. Exiting to rapturous applause, Ogden rolls up the sleeves of his long-sleeved t shirt emblazoned with ‘Marry Me’. I’m sure he doesn’t have a lack of suitors in tonight’s adoring crowd, but Ogden, and his bandmates have bigger dates in 2017: a night at the Roundhouse in March and Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl in July. Boy how 2016 has seen the career of these 5 lads from Stockport flourish or better, blossom.