Bear’s Den roars with emotion at High Noon Saloon
Maybe I’m just a sucker for a quiet banjo and a British accent, but up on the balcony section of High Noon Saloon, above a canopy of stringed lights on a Thursday night, London-based folk band Bear’s Den reminded me just how possible it is to smile and shed a tear at the same time. I have been a fan of Bear’s Den for quite some time; I saw them open for Mumford & Sons at the Marcus Amphitheater in 2014. I remember my mom quietly tapping along to their set and then turning to me at the end to say, “That was just so beautiful.” That’s the thing about Bear’s Den—their gentle energy is powerful enough to captivate an audience of any size, be it a huge amphitheater or a tiny Madison bar, and that was proved to me yet again Thursday.
Bear’s Den opened their set with “Red Earth & The Pouring Rain,” the opening track off their new album of the same title. The song kicked off the show with a forceful tone, breaking away from the traditional acoustic sound that characterized their first album, Islands. After “Emeralds,” another standout single from Red Earth & The Pouring Rain, the electric instrumentals were traded for a banjo and an acoustic guitar, transitioning into “Elysium,” a powerful, existential track about brotherhood and afterlife. Strumming along on his guitar, lead singer Andrew Davie sings, “Free from our shackles, our chains, our mouths, our brains / we will walk careless / straight into the light.” Queue my friend turning to me to say, not unlike my mom in 2014, “This is just so beautiful.”
After a few more songs from both LPs, the band asked for the audience to quiet for an acoustic, microphone-less rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away” off their EP Without/Within. I always love when bands do this, especially in bar venues when the audience is more likely to be chatty. I love to see an otherwise noisy venue slowly quiet out of some form of captivation or respect for the people on stage. And where some bands struggle for a while to get complete silence, Bear’s Den hushed High Noon Saloon within 15 seconds. What this rendition proved to me was that Bear’s Den absolutely exudes talent. Without an instrument, amplifier, microphone or even a beat to accompany them, the band conveyed emotion and beauty in just as powerful a way.
The show finished with an obvious crowd favorite as well as my personal favorite track, “Above the Clouds of Pompeii.” A deeply emotional and touching song about the death of a boy’s mother, the song filled the room with a somber yet upbeat beauty. Soon, it seemed as if the entire audience was singing along to the song’s hook, “Don’t cry / hold your head up high / she would want you to / she would want you to.” Despite the melancholy tone of the song, the lead singer broke out into a smile at the end of the track, reminding me once again why the band’s music has resonated with me for so long. Each song, whether it be the recorded or live version, is an example of what it means to turn heartache, pain and emotion into a beautiful art. The way vocals and instrumentals are paired together paints nostalgia, sorrow and hope all in one. I couldn’t have asked for a better live show, just as I couldn’t have asked for a better soundtrack for the past two years.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter