As the second support slot of the evening comes to close, it’s probably almost thirty-five degrees in the excited hub of The Fleece in Bristol. An audience of all ages waits in anticipation as the lights dim and a classical piece plays. Enter then Eliza And The Bear, professionally clad in black and white, their prowling silhouettes mounting the stage as a cacophonous din of guitar feedback builds behind them.
With magnificent brightness, Lion’s Heart explodes into being, as every layer of instrumentation pounds in time – the synthesised strings on the backing-track, the cavernous drum crashes, the twinkling keys, the steady bass and the cutely-woven guitars, lead and rhythm toeing the bouncy melodies. James and his lead-guitarist make some adventurous axe-switches halfway through songs (credit here to the incredibly graceful guitar tech team at this show), and Callie bounces violently on his piano stool, his floppy locks spraying perspiration as he executes flourishes on the ivories with simply awesome power. Regrettably, Martin Dukelow’s lead guitar lines are criminally under-mixed at the soundboard and the chromatic sheen that characterises the band’s recorded output is largely lost.
Not that this is anything to complain about really. From the off, Eliza and the Bear are a conscientious presence – a hardworking unit of well-dressed musicians creating a studio-standard sound onstage, and though this mechanised recreation of recorded sound can be crippling for some acts, it’s the physical dynamism that earns with James Kellegher and co. the respect of the crowd.
That said, through a set-list of largely similar folk-rock tunes, it’s clear that the band’s devoted fan-base are arguably its greatest effectuation. Hours before, in the cobbled alleyway beside the venue, as we wait to interview the band, members of the audience arrive for meet-and-greets; two girls in particular rock up with Tupperware containers housing fairy-cakes a-plenty. When said cakes later get a mention from the band onstage, its clear that the relationship between band and core audience is an intimate one – and that’s really quite lovely.
Suddenly, the evening is less gig than it is ritual – the besotted mass and their thankful recipients. Testament to this quasi-romance in the air between band and buffs is audience participation in long-awaited It Gets Cold, which ends in a Billie-Joe Armstrong-style call and response, the assemblage getting the last word with their strong-hearted repetitions of the chorus. As waves of smartphones glow through each of this evening’s emphatic renditions, one has to wonder if perhaps this adoring crowd have something to do with James Kellegher’s comments earlier concerning Spotify.
He said: “The exposure that we’ve got from those services that has been invaluable to us. I know there’s this whole thing about how much they pay and stuff like that, but a band our size, isn’t going to be earning much money no matter how much they pay.”
I’ve thought about it considerably since I saw them play, and I reckon it’s that reciprocation of warmth that gives Eliza and the Bear a good name with their fans; beyond writing fairly enjoyable feel-good anthems, this is a band who rather more sincerely, love their fans.
Read the PearShaped interview with Eliza And The Bear here.