Review: Boy & Bear at The Corner Hotel, Melbourne

Boy & Bear
Image Courtesy of Boy & Bear

Boy & Bear supported by Jinja Safari and Emma Louise
25 May 2011, The Corner Hotel
Melbourne

The Corner Hotel in Richmond has to be one of my favourite venues in all of Melbourne. With neither the room (nor inclination) for a fancy setting, it is so incredibly versatile, simply buzzing with energy and vibrancy, its faded carpet whispering and roaring about all the amazing shows it has seen. And tonight’s was no exception.

A far cry from the energy of either of her successors, Emma Louise calmly walked to the middle of the stage, picked up her beautiful acoustic guitar and shyly introduced herself, opening her set with “No Response”, a song that brought the room to a standstill. The chatter fell away, leaving only her rich voice and soft guitar picking as she sung about her brother’s leaving (to the mines up north) and the aching loneliness that followed. This was my first experience of her, and I was very pleasantly surprised.  With beautiful harmonies, intricate guitar lines and gentle drum and bass she was full of instant appeal. Sadly however, her set was a little too laid back for the rearing crowd. Although it was full of standout songs like “Sun and Moon” (about a bad relationship) and “Morning Eyes”, written just before cyclone Yasi hit, their attention wandered, the chatter and laughter rose and she became background music. Gradually, with the addition of her fantastically casual and unique drummer she rounded them all up again, finishing solidly on her debut single “Jungle”.

Next came the indescribable and beautifully manic Jinja Safari. Again, a first experience, I had no idea what I was in for but, my goodness was I amazed! The stage had been redressed to look like the forest, complete with strings of leaves, smoke machines, red lighting and a colossal sitar. There was much speculation as to what this “over grown banjo” actually was, along with loads of excited murmuring as various band members popped on and off stage, doing their own set-up. It was at this point that I had my first encounter with percussionist Alister Pattern, who accidentally brushed against me while searching for leads. (There was to be a repeat performance at the end of their set when he nearly hit me with a piece of his kit as it lurched forward, amid many apologies and a good laugh – “great set, terrible end.”)

With a delicious fusion of Afro-pop beats, Indie guitars and vocals and generous lashings of world music, the sound these guys produce is somewhat reminiscent of Vampire Weekend, only with a far more organic twist.  Stand out tracks for me were definitely “Hiccups”, “Peter Pan” (here the sitar emerged) and “Forest eyes”, all littered with frantic beats, smooth vocals and just enough bubbly synth instrumentation. Evident not just in these 3, but their whole set, was the sheer passion, excitement and contagious energy they project, something the crowd thrived on. Everyone, even the shyest among us, danced and clapped, laughing as the band did their famous “ugly dancing,” shooting witticisms and smiles at one another. The interaction between them was just incredible. They were the perfect lead up to Boy & Bear, gathering us together, winding us up and gracing us with such a fantastic, welcoming vibe. I really was sad to see them go.

Boy & Bear opened their set with a significant change of pace in the form of “Lordy May”, a reflective and slightly melancholic track from their forthcoming album. Though initially sparse it built with incredible grace and strength into a sublime vocal, and key/ drum driven finish.

It seems that this may be something to be expected from their debut – a quietly wise and intense sound, complete with their steady drums, trademark harmonies and epic guitar lines. That’s not to say it was all slow paced, certainly not. Some of their newies positively leaped with energy. It’s more the lyrical content that sees Hosking on an introspective and contemplative journey, with striking imagery and a certain mournful quality.

Nowhere is this more evident than in “Big Man”, a song about “having perspective,” heavy with the heart of a young man slightly lost, so awed by what he’s seen, so “terrified of having achieved nothing at all”. This was one of my favourite tracks despite its sad nature, the poignancy in its delivery and slow build entirely unavoidable. And the expression on Dave’s face as he sung this last refrain was all the explanation needed.

Scattered among other apologetically new songs (Hosking thought it necessary to check we were “ok with new stuff”), were of course their crowd favourites such as “Mexican Mavis”, a fantastic if not slightly surprising transition from their opener, and “Rabbit Song”, played quite late into their set. To each of their well- known songs the crowd reacted accordingly, clapping and cheering, singing along and laughing where appropriate. Naturally, “Fall at Your Feet” was played with impeccable precision drawing both a roar and then hush as the crowd recognised the familiar banjo lines and the drums, played in this case by bassist Jake Tarasenko. The band was clearly really happy to be on stage, their musical intuition and knowledge shining through, their grins evident despite Hosking’s obvious sickness. During a break in which he apologised for coughing and elaborated on some of the new material, sinking back a Coopers’ Ale he and Tim Hart (Drums, Vocals) politely but contentedly informed us of the bands “no encore” policy, telling an amusing anecdote of a gig in Byron Bay where the crowd really didn’t get the message.

While the whole of their set was making me very excited for the release of their album, another outstanding new track was the haunting yet beautiful “My Only One”, full of their superb harmonies and a crescendo which lead to some highly impressive guitar work from Killian Gavin. In another radical change of pace, “Milk and Sticks” burst into life, a wonderful guitar and drum driven track which moved like a Mumford and Sons song, with a brilliant transition on the mandolin by Jon Hart into “Blood to Gold”, another crowd epic. Probably the most lively pace wise was the self-confessed seventies throw back “Part Time Believer” with a very Dan Kelly and Glenn Richards sound, and “Golden Jubilee”, an almost Paul Simon like vibe filtering through its lyrics and guitar, and of course “Feeding Line”. I was surprised, pleasantly, by the crowds immediate and hearty reaction to this, but perhaps my favourite of all was the humble, gentle and achingly honest “Beach”, a song it seemed, about writing songs, being on tour, longing for places and people and things, a song about bearing oneself to the masses. It was sad and sweet, and built to an incredible climax, leaving us so entirely happy and grateful that they do what they do, simply so we can see it.

2 Comments

  1. steph said,

    July 27, 2011 at 11:56

    hey just having a look over this and i had to mention that you write beautifully and really hook the reader. Anyway looking forward to Moonfire soon.

  2. Serena Skye said,

    July 27, 2011 at 12:31

    Thanks heaps for the lovely comment Steph, it was a joy to write.
    Great bands provide great fodder? I am also incredibly excited about their album!


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