Review: Eliza and the Bear @ Deaf Institute, Manchester

If you go to an Eliza and the Bear gig expecting to see either a girl called Eliza or a bear, you’ll be sorely disappointed on both counts.

But you’d struggle to find a disappointed audience member after last night’s jubilant Manchester comeback show, kicking off the indie band’s latest national tour.

You might not know their unusual name, but you’ll definitely have heard their upbeat anthems accompanying all manner of TV shows and adverts. Their music was even featured on the BBC’s Olympic coverage – and it’s not hard to see why.

Named after a collection of poems, the British four-piece consists of lead vocalist James Kellegher, guitarist Martin Dukelow, bassist Chris Brand and drummer Paul Kevin Jackson. Only last week it was announced – much to the dismay of fans – that fifth and founding member, keyboard player Callie Noakes, had left the group. It’s fair to say his presence on the intimate Deaf Institute stage was much missed.

Their earlier folk rock sound established them as the kooky Essex lovechild of Mumford and Sons and Of Monsters and Men. However, a change of musical direction after being dropped by their record label, Capitol, in 2016 has seen them verging into Maroon 5’s territory of lethally catchy pop – and their listeners are lapping it up.

Opener Higher, a real earworm, is a great example of their infectious new style, with energetic Kellegher channelling Adam Levine to get everyone dancing.

That said, it is their older folky tunes, most notably It Gets Cold and Light It Up, where each band member really shines. The crowd gleefully sings every word back over the chorus of guitars, waving their phones in the air to the beat. A mid-performance acoustic interlude is also warmly welcomed, as Kellegher and Dukelow perform stripped-back versions of fan favourites Cruel and Talk.

At just under an hour, the performance felt a little brief – a longer set would have gone down a storm. Perhaps a cover or two with an Eliza and the Bear twist could be included on the setlist as the tour progresses.

But it’s difficult to see any flaws in such a confident display of cheeriness from a band whose upcoming album should be the soundtrack to your spring.  

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