Deafening singalongs and silent reveries aplenty
James Ayles
15:11 21st February 2020

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If you’re going to bring the curtain down on a defining period of your music, this is the way to do it. Billed as the last shows from their So that you might hear me era and ten whirlwind months on from the release of their third studio album, Bear’s Den imbued the evening (20 February) with a sense of closure from the very opening strings. It's only Brussels and Amsterdam left on this defining tour. 

With well-judged support from fast-rising Australian Gordi (who has developed a compelling line in near-orchestral ballad-rock), it's Bear's Den's time. Having formed in west London all the way back in 2012, it always feels like a particularly poignant homecoming when they return, and this is no different. The Hammersmith Apollo is at capacity for yet another enormous capital show for the band. 

Nominally a two-piece on record sleeves and promotional posters, they swell to eight for this run of shows with Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones joined by a coterie of musicians to recreate that huge sound.

Now filling pretty sizeable venues every night, the band clearly feel compelled to deliver a light show to match. At times, like on ‘Think of England’ it's delivered flawlessly. In others it goes slightly too far with the otherwise searing, soaring ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’ marred by intense flashing lights that would perhaps have been more at home at an under-18s disco night.

Still, they remain unmatched when it comes to atmospherics. The hanging, haunting smoke that swirls throughout ‘Isaac’ is followed immediately by another brilliant light show for ‘The Love We Stole’. Few and far between are the bands that can rouse a crowd to a deafening sing-long one moment then stun them into silent reverie the next, but Bear's Den pull it off on several occasions.

While all the usual hits are delivered with inch-perfect precision, the band seem to take particular delight in digging through what is now an incredibly extensive and varied repertoire.

Taking their show to bigger places - in every sense - does have its drawbacks. Gone is the trademark unplugged routine from within the crowd and with it just that touch of intimacy that sets them apart. 

Still, they are absolute masters of their art - the ambling prologue that morphs into the unmistakable opening strings of ‘Above The Clouds Of Pompeii’ draws audible gasps from the crowd, while ‘Blankets of Sorrow’ - done as an acoustic trio to begin the encore - is as poignant as you’ll see in a venue as cavernous and grand as this.

A year ago they performed just a few miles away to half as many people at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and declared it their favourite show to date, but they’d now be right to amend that. This is bigger, better and so much more emphatic in every sense. In another year’s time you’d expect them to be in an even bigger venue still - and to sell that out too.

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Photo: Alex Young