Ahead of their debut album, Getintothis’ Jamie Carragher finds out whether Eliza and the Bear can shake free from the ‘promising young band’ label and finally deliver.
Though Eliza and the Bear hail from London, there is something of a homecoming feel about tonight’s gig in Studio 2. And that’s not just to do with their name. The eyebrow-raising name – there’s no Eliza or bear to be seen – derives from a collection of poems by Mersey poet Eleanor Rees‘. It’s a good fit. Rees‘ fascination with home and homeward journeys is echoed in frontman James Kellegher’s lyrics, particularly on the singles It Gets Cold and Lion’s Heart. However, where Rees finds mysterious darkness, Kellegher finds stirring light. Eliza and the Bear conjure up heart-warming anthems that revel in the growth that leaving and returning home can bring.
With a sense of anticipation in the crowd, it would be easy for the support to be on a hiding to nothing but Eliza’s touring companions only serve to add to the evening with some polished performances.
Into The Ark, a Welsh duo whose music brings to mind the likes of The Staves and The Lost Brothers, treat Parr Street to their alluring presence. Yes, they’re evocative of said bands primarily because they deal in all things acoustic but also because their harmonies are entrancing and their song structures delightfully unpredictable. Where Into The Ark really make their sound their own is in the soul and bite of their vocals; it’s the kind of music that Studio 2 was built to house.
Special mention must also go to the other support act, Michael Cassidy, a late edition to the tour, who opens the gig tonight. Winner of the Gerry Rafferty Prize, Cassidy’s brand of alternative folk sees him toiling in the same musical vineyard as Laura Marling. Witnessing the Glaswegian deliver his taut lyricism and tight tunes to match, most evident in stand-out track Everybody’s Scared, it’s no wonder that his debut album, My Electric Heart, has gone down a storm. All in all, both supports create an ideal foundation for tonight’s headline act.
Eliza and the Bear’s star has been marked for some time now. In 2013 they played arenas with Paramore, in 2014 they were named as one of XFM’s ‘Great Expectations’ – a prophetic ribbon that has previously been pinned on the likes of Bastille and The 1975. They wear the pressure lightly it would seem. If this five piece do get to the top, they’ll do so enjoying themselves, touring around football stadia by day (the day started with a trip to the blue side of the city), while playing their hearts out by night. Heading into the final stretch of a month-long nationwide tour, Eliza and the Bear show no signs of flagging and the Studio 2 crowd feast upon the band’s verve and passion.
Set for an April release, Eliza and the Bear’s eponymous debut album is likely to make waves. Songs like Lion’s Heart are so sheen and soaring that you wouldn’t be surprised if Mumford and Sons had tried to squirrel their best tunes away from them. Other tracks on offer tonight such as Oxygen and Brother’s Boat suggest that the album will be the complete package. However, what’s really great about this quintet is that they don’t rest on their studio-based laurels. They bend their stadium-inclined tunes to suit the room. They’re eager to deliver what they dub ‘The Eliza Experience’ for whoever comes to see them, in whatever context that may be. In the fairly intimate surroundings of Studio 2, that adds up to an impressively barnstorming performance and one made easier to execute by the band’s repertoire of genuinely catchy tunes.
As the crowd exit, thoroughly entertained, they are no doubt pursued all the way home by the reverberating melodies of Eliza and the Bear. The journey continues.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Waters