Sitting downstairs in the dark of the Birmingham Bar Academy with Dylan Rau, lead singer of Bear Hands, is a somewhat uncomfortable experience, more so for Dylan, the poor sod, than for me. This timid, scrawny American seems rather baffled by some of my questions, often only managing a stuttering ‘Uh…I’m not sure…I’ve never been asked that before’. I wasn’t asking him anything that bizarre (honestly) and, somewhat to my relief, I notice that this confused look rarely leaves his face the whole night. In fact, the only time when he does seem to have a remote grasp on what’s going on is during the band’s set. Which is lucky I guess.
Bear Hands released an EP entitled ‘Golden’ here in the UK last September, but have recently been working on new material, some of which we are treated to tonight, in order to record and release their debut album sometime this year.
The beginning of their set feels like an explosion has just taken place inside the room. During the opening number both guitarist Ted Feldman and bassist Val Loper join TJ Orscher in his drumming, taking up sticks and hitting anything within reach, including an extra snare drum at the centre of the stage. Tambourines and maracas also feature heavily in the night’s performance, explaining why Ted and Val are credited as playing percussion on the band’s MySpace page.
Interestingly, Rau does not take the centre stage, as is the case with most four-piece bands, instead spending the entire set standing off to the right and staring hard at the floor. Fortunately Bear Hands’ bassist appears to have no self-confidence issues and owns the stage, forming the focal point of the show. I say ‘fortunately’ as I doubt that Rau would be at all comfortable in this position. His attempts at banter are just as awkward; centring around the fact that Birmingham is also the name of a city in Alabama, a city that happens to be full of racists. The question “Any racists in the house tonight?” elicits drunken whoops from one, clearly inebriated, member of the audience, while the rest of us are just left feeling slightly mystified as to why anyone would ever want to pose this question.
Tonight Rau’s vocals seem particularly staccato; he spits them out like machine gun fire. His lyrics are equally as confusing as he is himself in person, mixing references to Cambodia and Vietnam with abstract images and ideas (‘I’m dreaming of your goddamn long nails’ is particularly cryptic. Or possibly has no real meaning at all and is simply gibberish. Let me know if you work it out). When asked whether he ever uses his lyrics to try to get a message across, Rau starts squirming around in his seat again, ‘I don’t think I’d feel comfortable doing that.’ You don’t say…
Despite Rau’s closed and difficult stage persona, Bear Hands put on a brilliant performance this evening and clearly deserve a higher placing on the bill. There’s something about the fullness and quality of the sound they produce that sets them apart from the other Brooklyn buzz-bands of the moment, and suggests that they’ll be around for a good while after the likes of Boy Crisis have disappeared off the radar.