Boy & Bear, Captain’s Rest, 2/12/10
Hailing from Sydney, Australia, Boy & Bear are a five piece outfit that are taking the burgeoning indie-folk pocket by storm. They have been lavished with critical acclaim since early 2009 but have also put up with being dubbed, rather glibly, as musical copycats, most notably of indie-folk royalty ‘Fleet Foxes’. These thoughts are voiced tonight, with suggestions that they’re ‘Fleet Foxes-meet-Mumford and Sons-meets-Bon Iver-meets-Grizzly Bear’.
The main support act, Andrew Davie, preludes the show with a set of acoustic ballads whose beautiful lyricism and purposefully nervous energy put the audience in the right mood for the main event that follows the second support. With front man Tim Hart at the helm the band filter on stage with friendly smiles and a mandatory ‘Glasgow is chillier than Sydney’ comment. Set opener ‘The Storm’ fittingly begins, following the calm, with a pleasingly melancholic arrangement of intimate vocals and softly strummed acoustics, and the peace is soon shaken up by gradual additions of full-bodied percussion and dreamy riffs. It is the ethereal vocal accompaniments, however, that take the performance from being a simple triumph of sonic layering to a more organic experience.
The Captain’s Rest works wonderfully as a canvas for resonating harmonies that make the walls buzz with the echoes of animalistic but perfectly tuneful vocals. With the opener over, the quintet launch into ‘Blood and Gold’, a number which mixes a hearty dose of Americana infused baseline with their trademark choral arrangements to produce unabashedly catchy hooks and an opportunity for the crowd to dance and defrost. The small capacity of the venue is highly complementary to the intimate numbers but you can imagine that the more driven songs like this one would be better suited to an arena style. Song transitions are swift with minimal audience interaction, but it is clear this is borne not out of impoliteness but from the drive that these musicians have to perform their work. It pays off as we are presented with an audible litany of rich textures, near perfect harmonies and a level of exuberance which is oftentimes lost in music as polished as this. ‘Rabbit Song’, their fifth offering, combines an upbeat rhythm section with jacked up vocals to create a raw, more experimental sound. ‘House and Farm’ is a love letter to their folk side that sees a banjo and mandolin form a dulcet strings arrangement pronouncing the band’s lyrical quality that is occasionally lost in the percussion-heavy numbers. Next up is their party piece, a take on indie institution Bon Iver’s ‘Flume’. It is an impressive feat of vocals but loses some of the intimacy in the plurality of voices – an integrity that cannot be regained however lovingly performed.
The penultimate song is arguably their best – ‘Mexican Mavis’ is a tour de force which packs in a fervent percussion base and flawless chord progressions which sit perfectly alongside the haunting vocal arrangements that resonate well after the climax is reached and the audience is left again with calm. But this time the calm has a different nature: the knowledge that Boy & Bear are headed for great things.