An indie-rock band from Australia, Boy & Bear began as a solo project of lead singer Dave Hosking, back in 2009. However, after jamming with some fellow Aussie musicians, Hosking’s independent act grew to the five-man ensemble it is today. They found their start as an opener for the likes of Angus & Julia Stone and Mumford & Sons, but when their debut album, Moonfire, led to five ARIA awards in 2011, they were officially in the big leagues. Then their second album, Harlequin Dream, was released in 2013 and quickly soared to #1 on the ARIA charts, and Boy & Bear flew onto the international stage.
At 8pm on Saturday night, the doors to the Regency Ballroom opened and I found myself in a classic turn-of-the-century ballroom with teardrop chandeliers and a horseshoe balcony. Small groups of people clustered around the floor, and by 8:45pm, the intimate venue was crowded with teenagers, post-grads, and long-time San Franciscans alike, all waiting for the show to begin.
The stage was set: a drum set in the back and four microphones lined across the front, all five stations marked with a hanging lantern. When the lights went down, the lanterns glowed and a picture of turbulent seas appeared on a screen hanging on the back wall. Reuben and the Dark walked out onto the stage and jumped right into their first song. Their introspective songs are chilling, haunting even, with lyrics that contemplate misery, joy, sorrow, and discovery. Performing songs off their recently released album, Funeral Sky, Reuben and the Dark enraptured the audience with their emotive music.
At last ten o’clock rolled around and, one by one, the members of Boy & Bear made their way out onto the stage. Lead singer David Hosking stopped in the center of the stage and took a quick swig of beer before slinging his guitar strap over his shoulder and breaking the hush with a single chord. And then a steady drumbeat from Timothy Hart followed Hosking’s explorative strum. The layers of sound continued to build as Hart’s brother Jonathan teased a melody from the keyboard, followed by Killian Gavin on the guitar. With the low thrum of bass from David Symes, the composition was complete and Boy & Bear began to sing.
Hosking captivated the audience with understated, earthy vocals and subtle, introspective lyrics. The songs had a stripped-down elegance, a poignant introspectiveness that walked the line between forlorn and curious, and the essence of classic rock.
Boy & Bear played songs from both albums, and although the two records have very unique sounds, the transitions from one song to the next were seamless. Occasionally, instead of merely shifting chords and jumping into the next song, the musicians would take a breather and talk to the audience: “Lovely day in a wonderful city – it’s fucking nice to be back here – a lot of people say that San Francisco is like Sydney – and we’re from Sydney – so it’s nice.” And of course, the audience would occasionally talk back, sometimes to the great surprise of the band: “Did someone just say Sydney sucks? Well… We rode bikes today and Sydney’s bikes are much better than San Francisco’s.” But the guys of Boy & Bear were in good spirits throughout the show, cracking jokes and dancing along to their music. And the audience wasn’t immune to the dancing bug either. We collectively swayed as the melancholy of “Back Down the Black” and “A Moment’s Grace” washed over us with slow plucking, tender harmonization, and a conversational rhythm reminiscent of a careful storyteller. And when the beat picked up, we shook our heads and our hips, and surrendered to the punchy drums and tangy guitars.
The Regency Ballroom was filled with Boy & Bear’s folky rhythms, indie lyrics, rock intentions, and good vibes. It was a great evening, and a fantastic close to their North American tour. It was a somber moment when the night finally came to an end, but I’m sure Boy & Bear will return to San Francisco soon with their Australian charm and authentic sound.
Photos by Jen Horton / Staff