London-based band Bear’s Den met a sold out crowd at U Street Music Hall on February 4th.
Opening for them was Gill Landry, equipped with just his acoustic guitar and his deep voice (his harmonica holder was unfortunately missing). Landry is a former member of Old Crow Medicine Show, who left in 2013 after the release of his third solo album. His deep, soothing voice is reminiscent of Johnny Cash, and his lyrics are akin to Bob Dylan. Though his songs were mostly sad, his banter was lively, and not entirely apolitical (“Let’s Make America Content Again” was a phrase he introduced to the crowd, who laughed and nodded).
The two main men in Bear’s Den, Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones, were accompanied by Christof van der Ven on banjo, as well as by other band members playing trumpet, drums, and bass. They started off the show with the song “Red Earth & Pouring Rain” from their newest album by the same name.
Their set list had a good mix of songs from both Islands (2014) and Red Earth & Pouring Rain (2016). They chose to do three songs – including their popular “Agape” and “Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away” – completely acoustically, with just Davie and Jones on guitar and van der Ven on banjo. U Street is just small enough that it worked out really well and made their set feel really personal. They were not hesitant to joke about the audience’s “quality” singing (especially the two gentlemen in front). Towards the end of their set, the three came into the middle of the floor to perform, which lent some interesting acoustics to their intimate show, and worked surprisingly well.
A particular standout was “Elysium,” which starts out with just guitar and vocals, but builds to the first chorus to include trumpet, electric guitar, and banjo. It’s a beautiful song that was even better live.
On their North America tour, the band has decided to do a different cover at each location, choosing a song with some connection to their venue. They said they were especially nervous about their D.C. cover, and joked that this could be “our last show.” They all took shots of whiskey to steel themselves before performing a subdued but swinging version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” chosen because Marvin Gaye, who popularized the song, was born in D.C. It was a good cover, but it was overshadowed by the rest of their great performance.
The band put on a lively show, with great musicianship and performances and especially entertaining stage banter. Definitely check them out on their next trip to DC! In the mean time, they have a bunch of interesting music videos up on YouTube that are well worth checking out!