Rachel’s new favorite thing to do upon entering a new venue is to estimate the average age of the crowd (maybe one day we’ll even take a survey). This group’s range seemed to be from 25-35 and their look was what you would expect from a LES crowd wanting to hear some Indie music…beards on beards on beards.
While living up to the grungy cool atmosphere we were hoping for, Mercury Lounge can be summed up in one word – small. The entrance is a narrow bar where patrons can wait in line for coat check and at the same time wait to get a drink at the bar, and wait for the bathroom – in that same line. It was all a bit much – but totally manageable. We immediately knew this occasion might call for the approach of “double fisting” drinks to reach a quick buzz, so Alicia ordered a Makers Mark Manhattan and a Magic Hat…neither of which could be produced. BOO! However, we will give a nod to the bartender who after making the Manhattan, decided that because the sweet Vermouth had probably been on the shelf for “13 years and nobody ever orders that,” she’d offer her something else. In any case, we settled for some light beers and headed in for the opener – Gabriel & The Hounds.
We caught the tail end of Gabriel’s short and intimate set; and even with the small stage, he seemed to be too tiny for it! We would have loved to have been closer to the stage and maybe watch him perform somewhere like Prohibition. We’re not sure how often he’s in the states, but we would love to catch him again.
Gabriel thanked the fans as he left, and as everyone waited for the headliners to take the stage, we moved up through the crowd and assumed our concert going positions – as close as we can get without inciting a riot. But at Mercury Lounge, it’s not hard to be close to the stage so we didn’t have to go far. It wasn’t until then that we had a moment to check out the venue (or ‘room’ might be a better word) for what it was, that we realized there was no side or backstage entrance. As a group of men made their way through the crowd, Alicia noticed them and said, “I’m so sick of long beards…there’s not a single thing attractive about them, why can’t those guys just keep them trimmed,” and then those beard-leaden men grabbed their instruments and took the stage. Whoops!
Compared to some of our previous Crushing Vinyl shows, the set-up was a totally different vibe. We were a sea of tightly cramped folks, looking at a minimalistic stage with few lights and dodgy acoustics.
We cannot lie; it took us awhile to get into Bear’s Den. We were intrigued by the quietness of the crowd and the noticeable absence of singing-along fans. But they were definitely enjoying themselves! A girl in front of us texted her friend, “MY HEART HURTS BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT HERE!” But who are these guys? Their captivation was apparent and their fan-base is clearly on the rise.
For the first half of the show, they played music off their first album, Agape. Their songs are emotional and the group has a great synergy. However, the lyrics weren’t doing it for us. We’re not song writers by any means, but many of their songs lacked some basic fundamentals that make a song “sing-along” worthy – namely a repeated chorus and bridge. We know that not every song has to have this, but it helps to have a few. Then they played their song, “Agape,” and it was over for us. We loved it. The song is heartfelt and beautifully arranged. (Alicia immediately downloaded it from iTunes.) After that, they moved onto songs from their new album, Without/Within, and it was apparent that the band had grown as song writers and musicians. It was great. Their music is definitely influenced by other folk artists – like Mumford & Sons and Bon Iver – but the main, and most interesting, difference is that Bear’s Den sometimes uses an electric guitar which brings a rock and blues element to their songs and sets them apart from most bands in the folk genre.
It would be great to experience their music on a bigger stage. In the end, we wanted so much more for them. Even though we weren’t completely drawn into the fan fold, our desire to see them on a bigger stage with bigger production value was intense. Listening to songs like “Agape,” “Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away,” and “Pompeii” and then watching their finale cover of Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home” in the middle of this tiny crowd, blew us away. Bear’s Den is a band where one day we’ll say, “Wow! Remember, we saw them way back when…”
Here’s a snippet of “Agape.”
RCS’ takeaway: …on a serious tip, where were the black people? I was (from what I saw–and I was looking!) the only person of color in the building… (LONG PAUSE). In any case, Joey Haynes, for me, was the personality of the band. He brought the laughs, the funk and the Mumford-y vibe. I dug that. By the end of the night, my meh opinion of the venue didn’t matter. All I could say was: SOLID DUDE SOLID.
AD’s takeaway: They are very talented musicians – each playing about 3-4 different ones during their set. The drummer, Kevin Jones, bangs away on a full drum kit while playing a guitar and singing. Who does that?? It’s already been established that I love Mumford and alternative music, so I hope Ben Lovett’s label, Communion Records, puts some money into a road crew for the band. Since they are lacking a roadie, after each song they spent at least a full minute tuning their instruments. As a person in the crowd desperately trying to get into the band – the moments of silence were deafening…deflating.