Bear's Den are an exciting, up-and-coming band on the Communion label, which might explain why they sound a bit Mumfordy, but they aren't as blustery fortunately.
UK band Bear's Den receive a lot of comparisons to Mumford & Sons, in part because of their expressive banjo use and because they have released two EPs and an album on Communion Records, the label founded by one 'Son' Ben Lovett and Kevin Jones, who drums for Bear's Den. Jones did change up instruments occasionally though with his bandmates, singer and guitarist Andrew Davie and Joey Haynes on banjo. Their live performance at New York City's Warsaw venue included several other musicians (maxing out at nine people on stage), namely members of the opening act Dan Mangan + Blacksmith and later, their friend Remi Aguillela from the band Daughter. Dan Mangan and his band hail from Vancouver and hadn't performed in New York in at least two years, and one fan near the front expressed her love for them and that she had been waiting for so long for their return.
What drew me to Bear's Den however wasn't the Mumford-ness of their work, it was layers they added to their music, particularly the trumpet, which reminded me of Fanfarlo, another UK-band that I do very much enjoy. The track on their debut full-length album Islands sunk it's teeth into me, and many other fans based on the number of people asking for this song, was "Elysium", with it's yearning brass call. But the entire album is stirring. The music was relatively new to me, but many in the audience had learned the words by heart and were turning the show into a warm sing-along. At one point Davie forget the words to the gently, plucky "Magdalene" but he smiled as some in the audience chimed in and he laughed it off as the band continued. Those two songs plus the more rowdy opener "Agape", also the lead track off the album (and featured on an earlier EP), are my favorites but their shine carried through the rest of the music. "Above the Clouds" became another favorite, as the band's refrain of "I was too young to understand" made the track particularly moving.
Bear's Den concluded the show with their tradition of going into the middle of the crowd to perform an acoustic song. I don't know if it is always the same one, but on this night they did "Bad Blood", the final track on the album, smack dab in the middle of fans who held their cameras up high. It was a nice gesture to the young fans who were in attendance and the band were even nicer by staying post-show for some pierogies and posing for pictures. The warmth Bear's Den offers up isn't very different from the bluster other banjo bands have and they are a band worth checking out in smaller venues while you still can, and while they can still join you without security.
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith:
Bear's Den setlist:
Don't Let the Sun Steal You Away
The Love We Stole
When You Break
Above the Clouds of Pompeii
Writing on the Wall
Think of England