Eliza and the Bear / Into the Ark / Michael Cassidy @ Electric Circus, 11 Feb

Live Review by George Sully | 16 Feb 2016

It’s hard to say whether Electric Circus being almost at capacity by 7pm is testament to the keenness of the headliner’s fans, or to the respective fanbases of the two support acts, but the first slot – charming Paisley-based songsmith Michael Cassidy – is certainly worth turning up early for. A popular folksy soloist, his wholesome guitar and impressive voice are a winning team, and he masterfully holds the attention of the early, bustling crowd.

Less compelling are middle act Into The Ark. A cheeky Welsh duo (with that effortlessly cheerful accent – “We’re Intewtheyahk!”), one on drumpad, one on guitar, they share vocal duties through a set of mostly conventional indie-pop. It’s a shame they seem bound by that Radio 1 mould of faux-impassioned yelps and bland chord structures, since they’re technically accomplished and the banter between songs is at least quite funny (“Being from the valleys, we wrote something about the valleys...”). Although the less said about their Bane impression, the better.

It’s clear a lot of the fans here have been following Eliza and the Bear around the UK on this tour; plenty of merch and branded t-shirts on display, plus one very committed acolyte wearing an actual bear head (‘actual’ as in ‘large and stuffed’, not the head of an actual bear), and the band themselves recognise the front row from earlier gigs. So what’s all the fuss about?

This London troupe are, unfortunately, victims of the same trappings as Into the Ark, except here the reference points are your twee-anthemic chart-toppers: Imagine Dragons, Bastille, Of Monsters and Men; you get the picture. Catchy lyrics, ample Oh! Oh! Oh!s, surprise synth-trumpets, etc. But, they’re a tight quintet – the tiny Electric Circus stage is always good at testing bands’ intimacies – and played live, these shrewdly composed hits are, ultimately, pretty addictive.

Upon The North’s kickdrum breakdown, the jangly Lion’s Heart, even the insufferably Mumfords-esque It Gets Cold – in the moment, they cast an anti-cynic spell of well placed beats and adept polyinstrumentalism. It’s difficult to fault such passionate and alchemically buoyant pop-rock, and tonight this crowd is vehemently worshipping at that altar. [George Sully]