Show Review: Bear’s Den & Vera Sola
Bear’s Den has been among my top three favorite bands for about seven years. Throughout that time, I have somehow always managed to just left whatever city they were playing; I had been chasing them for years. They are a folk rock band from London, formed in 2012, remarkable for their earnest, heartfelt lyricism and knack for emotional instrumental. I first stumbled upon them on YouTube, finding a video of them playing a live, early version of their song “Stubborn Beast” in some sort of parking lot, filmed on what must have been a cellphone. Since then, I have followed their growth as artists with a strong sense of pride. This dream of mine to see them finally came true last Wednesday.
A friend and I arrived at Mr. Smalls just in time for the start of their opener, Vera Sola. I had never heard of her before but as soon as I walked in the door—her voice something like a siren’s call toward the main room—I was completely floored. Vera Sola self-released her first solo album, Shades, in 2018. Her sound and her aesthetic is incomparable to any performer I have ever known. My first thought upon seeing her and her band onstage was “Okay, yeah, this is a witch coven.” Smoke filled the stage without being campy and the light played through it perfectly. Her band was comprised entirely of women: a standing bass, drums, and Vera on guitar. Her voice filled the entirety of the room with little effort, and I genuinely felt as though it was reaching inside my own chest. She exuded power without pretension; between songs, she was funny and clever and knew exactly how to interact with the (very sizable) crowd—at one point telling us of her day-job voicing TV commercials for depression medication. She is the type of songwriter that makes you feel as though you have known her songs your whole life. One song in particular, that is not yet released, has been on repeat in my head, personally, since hearing it for the first time days ago. (I asked her via her website what it was called, and she said—in the kindest email I have ever received—that it is not yet released or named, but will probably be called “Lying” on her next album; definitely something to look out for.) I met her at her merch table between sets and I can honestly call her one of the most genuine and kind musicians I’ve ever spoken with. In her music and her presentation, she projects an aura of melancholic humor.
Afterward, Bear’s Den began their set with a dramatic instrumental: the Terminator theme song. From there they entered and launched into “Fuel On the Fire”, the first single off their new album So that you might hear me. Their set as a whole consisted of a good mix of songs from all three of their studio albums, as well as a few from their original EPs (Agape and Without/Within, both released in 2013). A very smart and subtle detail I noticed was that, with only a few exceptions, the lighting for each song they played was influenced by the colors of the album art from which that song was. Frontman Andrew Davie was wry yet genuine in his interactions with the crowd, and the band as a whole visibly drew energy from us. They asked if they could play their song “Sophie” unplugged, and to my surprise (given past experiences with bands requesting quiet), the crowd complied, the only noise being a few people softly singing along, for which Davie expressed his gratitude. They did something similar with “Blankets of Sorrow” in their encore, except they came directly onto the ground from the stage and played from the center of the audience. We, the audience, were collectively taken aback but incredibly respectful, and it was one of the—for lack of a more apt word—coolest experiences I’ve ever had at a show.
If I seem overly enthusiastic, please believe it’s not undeserved. I can say with complete sincerity that this was simply the most fun concert I have been to in a very long time; a feeling of pure concentrated joy in the whole room, from audience and band alike, from beginning to end. The emotion and energy felt, somehow, like what we were all experiencing together was a secret that would stay between us. Reading about it is simply not enough—to see both Vera Sola and Bear’s Den live is something I would wish for everyone.