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Hunting Bears' EP fundraiser gig @ The Church, 17/09/'11

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a fundraiser gig for Hunting Bears' forthcoming EP, Eye Contact With Strangers. Only contacted a few hours before, the band's name stirred some interest in me, and making the decision to go was easy (and was definitely not a regrettable decision, as it turns out).

After the crisp vocals and driving melodies of the charismatic Settler, and the catchy haziness of the effective blend of divergent musical influences of Threads - both excellent local acts, on came the band of the evening, Hunting Bears. I must admit, by that point I was brimming with curiosity, as I'd never heard of this band before the show, so for all intents and purposes, I was absolutely clueless about what I was about to witness. However, no matter what expectations I'd possibly have held, surely in all cases they would have been surpassed.

From the outset, it was clear that Hunting Bears sports a refined sound, with a very elegant sense of dynamic and timing. It's the kind of music that'll send you awash under waves of lush, spacy sound, only to be drawn promptly back to earth by the clarity of a tender guitar segue, and blasted straight back out into space just as quickly. The phrase 'emotionally-driven' as a descriptor for a band's sound usually needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but in this case, it's fairly accurate. Each track was just as spectacularly and consistently spot-on and full of feeling as the last. Hunting Bears have a tendency to craft a tense and wrenching peak, only to pull back at the perfect moment, to leave your heartstrings still ringing aloud. For example, abruptly ending a song at an intense moment, instead of simply fading out or falling apart, to snap the listener out of a sonically-induced fugue state.

Fronting the band was the phenomenal vocalist/guitarist Maddy Parkins-Craig, with such a voice that enraptured straight from the first note, right until the very last. Not a single word was sung off-tune, and she held some impressive sustained vocal notes without so much as a single waver. Not to mention her dynamic range was outstanding as well, from the sweetest tones to a soaring high with absolute ease - and all of this whilst playing guitar, and proficiently, at that. And while Maddy definitely came across as a powerhouse, that's hardly to say the rest of the band were any less great - Michelle Anderton, on bass, offered some amazingly complementary and perfectly on-tune vocal harmonies, in addition to her powerful, punchy basslines; Josh Simmons, guitarist, supplied beautifully clashy, ringing guitar hooks nestled between potent, grooving riffs, and, in the song "Harbour", provided an exquisite guitar solo, that all but sunk its claws into the listener's mind, and then proceed to churn it completely as the guitar drifted out into feedback to end the song. Not to mention Sam Holdom, drummer, whose polished instrumental heartbeat contributed captivating rhythmic variation, which served thoroughly in the act of keeping the listener on their toes at all points.

All of the band members work incredibly well together as a single body, and not a single note was even slightly off-time. It is clear that they are very well-practised, and if their live shows' demonstration of their mastery of balance between the delicate and the energetic sides of music is any indication of their recorded material's quality, then I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that Eye Contact With Strangers looks like it will be a very solid release. It's due out very soon. And I suggest you keep an eye out for it.

Highlights of the set:

The Garden and the Fire - Opening song, absolutely enrapturing from the outset, not to mention the captivating texture of the lead vocals.

Defective People - The sublime overly-effects-laden guitar twangings giving way into hypnotic, body-moving grooves and noisy closing fade-out section really appealed to the crowd.

By Tom McCone

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