Live: Hunter and the Bear – Lending Room, Leeds

As anyone who’s been there can attest, The Lending Room at The Library is not a large venue by any stretch of the imagination, but when Hunter and the Bear descended on it for the final date of their Paper Heart tour, it may as well have been an arena.

Hunter and the Bear have come a long way from their origins as an acoustic duo rehearsing in a soundproofed shipping container in a London car park. With countless festival dates and even a tour with the one and only Eric Clapton under their belts, this headline tour (off the back of debut album ‘Paper Heart’) has been their biggest and most ambitious yet, spanning the entire length of the UK, from the Shetland Islands to Brighton.

They brought along support band Model Aeroplanes for the second half of this tour, and these young lads from Dundee brought their summery brand of indie-pop to the stage at The Lending Room. Their energy was infectious, and they did a great job getting everyone moving and warmed up for the main event.

Hunter and the Bear burst onstage with punchy album opener “You Can Talk”, which set the tone for a blistering set of country-tinged alt-rock. Right from the start, it’s plain to see that these guys not only know what they’re doing, but absolutely love doing it. Their passion and energy is unfaltering, with all the band members constantly up and down the drum riser, and frontman Will ‘The Bear’ Irvine at one point even joining drummer Gareth Thompson behind the kit, for a drum-off of sorts.

Irvine commanded the stage, his voice on perfect form despite this being the last gig of a 15 date tour. However it wasn’t always about the frontman, each member was given their chance to shine throughout the set, whether it be an insane drum solo, a shredding guitar solo, even a bass solo, or the whole band breaking into Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’ during their encore.

It wasn’t all huge riffs and singalong choruses though; the band’s acoustic roots, and the craftsmanship behind their songs, really shone through on more subtle tracks like “I Am What I Am”, when Irvine seemed to somehow have an intimate moment with every member of the audience simultaneously.

The set was well planned out, with the main set opening and closing with the first and last tracks of the album, and the crowd were clearly enthralled all the way through. The standout songs, though, were newest single “Hologram”, which sounded absolutely huge, and encore track and set closer “Won’t You Ever Come Home”, which had the whole room belting out every word as the band gave all they had for the final song of the tour.

In the least hyperbolic way possible, this has to be one of the best small shows I have ever been to, holding up even in comparison to huge arena and stadium bands. Their passion and love for what they do comes across so well, you can’t help but be drawn in. Irvine’s humble demeanour adds to this, making them seem even more genuine and likeable; these guys aren’t rockstars, they’re just four guys playing music they love.

I’m not saying their performance was faultless, live gigs rarely are (and if they are then what’s the point – just listen to the album), but what was particularly endearing was seeing the way the band smiled at each other and laughed off any mistakes. It really showed the friendship and camaraderie between these four musicians who have already achieved so much, and have an even more exciting future ahead.

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