Bear’s Den have always had a small yet loyal cult following and, on Friday night, that niche of San Francisco folk lovers was gathered at the Great American Music Hall. As the band took the stage, a hush fell over the humble crowd — we could hear a gaggle of teenage girls next to us whispering excitedly to one another about each band member’s impressively rugged beard, before individual cheers escalated into a collective roar fitting of a mob twice its size.
They began with “Agape,” a crowd favorite. Like many of their songs, it began with a sweet, guitar-plucking melody and a few mixed vocals before intensifying into a spirited folk hoedown. Andrew Davie (guitar, vocals) and Joey Haynes (banjo, vocals) squared off during many such hoedowns, playing straight to each other with infectious grins on their faces.
The Den covered many songs from their debut album Islands as well as favorites from their earlier EPs. Live, Bear’s Den distill their album sound to the raw essentials — instruments and voices, with very little electronic ambient in the background. The tracks on Islands maintain the honest, warm sound of earlier classics like “Pompeii” and “Isaac,” while adding new elements — brass instruments, bluesy rhythms, and more uninhibited melodies, to name a few. “I think that honesty as a universal language is a really cool idea,” says Davie, a statement reflected in the group’s homey, genuine performance that evening.
A relatively new product of the same bit of London that gave us Mumford & Sons, Noah & The Whale, and Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit, Bear’s Den have expanded to five members — Davie, Haynes, and drummer/vocalist Kevin Jones introduced their touring members: Marcus Hamblett and Njål Johnsen. The crowd took quickly to both brass instrumentalists.
Over the past year, Bear’s Den have acquired a much more confident, gregarious presence, but their authenticity and transparency have not wavered. The personal nature of the band and their close connection with the fans was exhibited once again at this concert, with their witty stage banter and endearing flattery: they told us the GAMH was the most beautiful venue they’d played in yet and played their encore, “Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away,” in the crowd. We fell into a hush once more, a hush that was filled, with rich and sentimental harmonies, the kind of hush that floats into an ethereal land of rustic British folk and vaguely twangy banjo solos.
Check out the rest of Bear’s Den’s tour here. An Islands documentary illustrating the conception of the album and a good amount of Den bonding can be found here.
Article and Photographs by Kavitha George