With its ornate fittings, river views and fairy lights the Battersea Barge is certainly a long way from say, the Barfly or Camp Basement in the ‘niceness’ stakes. In fact you could say it’s a million miles away…the toilets aren’t held together by gaffer tape for a start (we love you Camp). Another thing that’s a million miles away tonight is what we thought Bear Driver were going to sound like and how they actually did. A quick soundcloud / google session had us expecting a galloping indie romp with references to Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire and Super Furry Animals buzzing around our tiny minds. As they descended the spiral staircase at the side of the stage (I’m not making this up…it’s that nice), and struck the first chords and thuds of the drums you realised it certainly wasn’t going to be a twee, indie-pop, campfire singalong that their soundcluod page would have you believe.
Firstly, there was no girl. “I’m pretty sure there’s a girl vocalist”. Not tonight. With no third vocalist or acoustic guitar in site the set turned out to be a blistering, brilliant blitz that was more Pixies than fairy dust. Central to this was guitarist and vocalist Harry, all sideshow Bob hair and bubbling energy, he never stood still onstage, even when required to sing. He provided the perfect foil for compatriot Oli, who, playing guitar and singing also, seemed the straight man in this musical partnership. Oli’s voice all smoothness and rich, whilst Harry’s taught and wavering, snapping at his backing vocals like a hirsute Frank Black.
On tracks such as previous single Wolves the guitars were heavy to the point where it sounded like a different song, but no less lacking in melodic quality. Enemy, which on record sounds like Arcade Fire and Noah and the Whale canoodling, was blasted out with the sizzling energy of current Indie favourites Tribes, with the dainty whistling lost in the chugging distortion. No Time To Speak seemed to fizz by at double time, and where did the blazing guitar solos come from!? Harry, cranking his pedal up to 11 and taking the opportunity to stroll out into the crowd or up the spiral stairs, to knock out some improvised riffs.
I read before the gig that Bear Driver thought of themselves as a collective more than a rigid group, whose sound was influenced by whoever was playing with them that day. With that in mind maybe tonight was just a reflection of that, a one off, amped-up run through their songs more akin to mixing it up in a band practice than at a gig? Or perhaps not, maybe it’s a change in direction to try and revive the ailing UK guitar band scene? Who knows? Whatever tonight was, it was a riot, continually juxtaposed against the quaint venue and always treading the fineline between brilliance and falling off the rails.