This Boy & Bear article was written by Jen Taylor, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Ben Kendall.
On a night that was a little too cold, in a venue that was a little too big, in front of a crowd that were a little too chatty, Boy & Bear pulled out a Tuesday evening set that sounded nothing but perfect. With all songs essentially an enhanced live version of their recorded music, they didn’t miss a beat or a note, filling the O2 Forum Kentish Town with music that showed the extent of the back catalogue this band has amassed over the years.
Hailing from Sydney, Australia, the five-piece indie rock-folk band Boy & Bear are making their way around the UK and Europe, touring their latest album. Joined in London by George Cosby, who, after performing previous shows of the tour solo, invited a band of his own along for this occasion to help his music fill out the large venue. His voice took some getting used to, and his songs and the band’s general onstage presence verged on being a little too dramatic. But the sound was big, and they built up to a strong finish.
When it was Boy & Bear’s turn to take to the stage, the lights dimmed and the first verse and chorus of Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ came through the speakers. While we sang along and wondered about the significance of the song choice, it wasn’t long before it faded out and the five Australians sauntered onstage to the pre-recorded percussion track, that marks the beginning of their latest album – and the title track – ‘Limit of Love’.
Dave Hosking is cool and collected onstage; he doesn’t jump around, or play up to being the frontman, but he does have a way about him that is intriguing, as he switches between playing his acoustic guitar and concentrating just on singing. His voice is one that you could recognise anywhere, and his flawless, pitch-perfect vocals are a pleasure to listen to.
Adding to the mix is drums, bass, electric guitar, keyboards and plenty of vocal harmonies. While instrument solos are not too common in their music, the moments of guitar leads and synth riffs are used well.
The setlist spanned their whole back catalogue, showing how they have progressed from their early folk roots into a more polished act, with complex songs filled with emotion. All their songs sound bigger and more impressive these days. Even their very early track ‘Rabbit Song’ has a whole different feel now; transformed into a rock song live, equipped with an added musical breakdown and an extended instrumental. While they have come so far from their folk beginnings, they’ve brought these tracks along with them, enhancing their songs to meld with their current sound.
The quieter songs were beautiful and particularly atmospheric, not only with the music but also the smoke machines, and lighting that alternated between blue, red and purple, as white spotlights panned the stage and out through audience. This atmospheric feeling stood out particularly in ‘Showdown’, with the smoke engulfing Hosking, as he crooned the melody over the top of the organ backing, with the rest of the band adding harmonies in the chorus to build into a huge stereo sound.
It became apparent as the night went on that the crowd contained a large number of Australians. It was unclear whether they favoured the newer or older songs, as their attention appeared to wax and wane. However, the energy definitely picked up nearer the end, with classics ‘Feeding Line’ and ‘Golden Jubilee’ instigating more of a party amongst the audience, which then had a noticeable effect on the band.
Throughout the gig there was somewhat of a disconnection between the band and the audience. While it was great to see Boy & Bear on a big stage, it’s possible that two shows at a smaller venue would have worked better than one at such a big cavernous venue.
At the very end of their set, the fantastically powerful combination of ‘Southern Sun’, ‘Harlequin Dream’ and ‘Walk the Wire’, ensured the audience remembered how to enjoy themselves, as hands were in the air and people finally let loose and danced around. There was even a saxophone player brought onstage for the sax solo in ‘Harlequin Dream’ – a particularly nice touch, which highlighted just how much thought had gone into ensuring their live sound was so perfect.