Photographs by Neil Van.
The Queen Elizabeth Theatre is a bit of a funny venue. It’s not a place that hosts shows all that often and the tours that do swing by tend to be on the stilted side of things thanks to the venue’s seated floors. You might think a similarly relaxed atmosphere would accompany a folk-rock act, but for Boy & Bear the audience was theirs for the taking.
They got some help from Calgary’s Reuben and the Dark – an Arts & Crafts-signed band turning heads with their stunning Funeral Sky debut. It was a mesmerizing performance from a band perfectly suited for both seated venues and more raucous nightclubs, playing a set that was measured, sincere, and sounding great. Anchored by Reuben Bullock’s vocal strength, it would have been easy to imagine – even hope – that the five-piece were the night’s main attraction.
That’s not to throw any shade at the actual headliners, mind you. The Australian five-piece of Boy & Bear was gladly welcomed back to Toronto for another stop on a tour supporting 2013 sophomore record Harlequin Dream. Gaining some radio success through stations like Indie88, they’ve connected to an overseas audience in spite of record label woes that left their earlier material unreleased in Canada. “Strangely enough, that album [Moonfire] never came out here,” vocalist David Hosking said near the set’s end. “We got screwed by our label but you still heard the songs. Perfect.”
It did seem like the crowd was in on something slightly secretive – as if the audience was privy to a band destined for bigger things – and the atmosphere inside the QET was intimate, providing Boy & Bear and their fans with ample opportunity for interaction. Whether it was Australian jokes that went well over my head or the standard declarations of love, it was a nice sight to see a band so open with the people they were playing to and so aware of their surroundings. That sentiment even extended to some lines of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”, carefully wedged in amongst a cover of Crowded House’s “Fall At Your Feet”.
Big, rousing numbers highlighted their set and – despite a rather annoying clicking noise audible throughout the night from a speaker above – reaction to the material would probably prove heartwarming for any band, no matter the stage in their career. It was with four songs left on Harlequin Dream single “Southern Sun” that the audience finally made the inevitable move: four women rushing to the front of the audience and managing (slowly) to start a venue-wide, dancing in the aisles party for the remainder of the set.
“We’ve done a lot of theatre venues this year,” Hosking told the crowd. “That’s the first time that’s happened and it’s pretty cool.” I can only expect that with the more the general populace becomes aware of Boy & Bear, the earlier in the show it’ll happen.