Live Review: Bear’s Den with Gill Landry at Doug Fir Lounge, Portland – 20th January 2017

By on Wednesday, 25th January 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

My first live review of 2017 took me north to Portland, Oregon, where the cold and rainy weather was a shock to my system, coming from the fairly mild winter we’ve had at home in Tucson. However, Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge proved to be a cozy place to catch a show, with a lovely log-cabin themed bar and restaurant upstairs and a small, but sonically spectacular, music venue nestled below. As it turned out, the venue’s crisp, clear sound was perfectly suited to the new FM-radio rock-leaning sound of last Friday evening’s headline act, London alt-folk duo Bear’s Den.

Gill Landry

Bear’s Den were preceded on the Doug Fir Lounge stage by singer/songwriter Gill Landry, with whom they had shared a bond years earlier on Communion Music’s Austin to Boston tour. Formerly a member of the Americana collective Old Crow Medicine Show, Landry also has three solo albums under his belt. The most recent of those is a self-titled LP released in 2015, which, interestingly, includes a duet with Laura Marling called ‘Take This Body’.

Landry started his set with a couple of relatively uptempo numbers, even dedicating one song to the newly inaugurated American president (in a less-than-complimentary fashion, it must be said). But it soon became clear that Landry’s catalogue of bluesy folk rock leans to the self-described “tender” side, and the chatter of the still-gathering Doug Fir Lounge audience became a bit of a distraction from his subdued and somber acoustic balladry. Those of us near the front of the stage, though, got the full effect of Landry’s warm baritone in feminine muse-inspired songs like ‘Emily’ and Old Crow Medicine Show cover ‘Genevieve’.

The restless crowd had filled to capacity by the time Bear’s Den made their dramatic entrance to the stage, opening with the first two tracks from their recent album ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’. Officially pared down from a trio to a duo consisting of Andrew Davie and Kev Jones, the band presented here as a six-piece, and their arrangements of the new songs were immediately lush and full, true to the recorded album versions.

Davie Jones photo
The band made a subtle change of course mid-set with an interlude of older songs, including a pair of tracks from their 2014 album ‘Islands’. ‘Stubborn Beast’ was a particular treat, as it’s been a mainstay of the band’s repertoire for several years now. (We at TGTF featured this live version of it back in 2011.) Also thrown in for good measure was the poignant ‘Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away’, which I hadn’t heard since the band released it on their EP ‘Without/Within’ back in 2013.

Naturally, Bear’s Den’s newer songs dominated the setlist, with ‘Roses on a Breeze’ and ‘Dew on the Vine’ making an especially strong impact. But Davie and Jones also took full advantage of their four touring members in expansive live orchestrations of ‘The Love that We Stole’ and ‘When You Break’, which fit seamlessly into their recently modernised sonic milieu. Their drummer and keyboard player even pulled double duty on several songs, taking on brass arrangements in addition to their primary instruments.

brass photo

After closing the set proper with a singalong chorus in ‘Above the Clouds of Pompeii’, Bear’s Den played a generous four-song encore, starting with ‘Napoleon’. Davie and Jones briefly descended into the crowd, along with touring bandmate Christof, for a fully acoustic rendering of ‘Gabriel’, then returned to the stage for a well-chosen cover of ‘Paul’s Song’, originally by M. Ward, in reference to the pervasive “Portland rain.” Cementing their warm reception in chilly Portland, the band closed with their instantly recognisable alternative radio hit ‘Agape’.

Friday evening marked Bear’s Den’s third appearance at the Doug Fir Lounge, but their first time selling it out, and they were clearly quite pleased by their audience’s positive response. The attention is well-deserved for a band who have spent most of the past five years on the road, cultivating and evolving their sound, whilst never losing track of the quality musicianship and songwriting that got them started in the first place. Bear’s Den are a band very decisively coming into their own, and this live performance bore full witness to their confidence and capability. A pure joy to behold.

Bear’s Den will be on tour in North America through mid-February. They will play a run of live dates in Ireland and the UK later this spring; you can find the details for those shows right back here. TGTF’s archived past coverage of Bear’s Den is through here.

After the cut: Bear’s Den’s set list.

"Bears

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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