Any innocent passers-by at the Bush Hall watching the turn-out from this gig would have been under no illusion. The smiling faces and relaxed postures of those spilling out from the picturesque building told its own story – The Bees had returned, and were working their own special charm again.
By the sound of things, it’s been a difficult time for the band recently. Aaron Fletcher apologised for the length of their absence – three and a half years since the last album, and a change of label – and spoke of how they were enjoying feeling their way back into the live circuit. That much was evident here, with a couple of false starts, but such was the relaxed disposition of the band these things did little to harm their flow, and even a lost tambourine proved a source of amusement.
With the primary purpose of the sell-out night to promote new material, the band gave us glimpses of their forthcoming album Every Step’s A Yes. Its harmonies and lyrics reflect a smoother musical passage for the band, relying less on their colourful blend of mariachi, funk and ska that has charmed fans since the days of A Minha Menina. Yet every group needs to grow musically, and the beautifully restrained Silverline, its warm vocal harmonies hinting at an Indian summer over Fletcher’s dubby bassline, was by some distance the most affecting of the new songs.
Forthcoming single I Really Need Love also pulled at the heartstrings, though this was more obvious as a sunshine moment, deserving its place as an encore with a catchy chorus. It joins an increasingly impressive canon of singles that the band were only too pleased to return to the public domain – a cheeky Who Cares What The Question Is?, a foot-to-the-boards Wash In The Rain and live favourite The Russian three of the obvious highlights, the latter toying with the audience.
As is traditional the sextet traded instruments almost as if swapping football stickers, Tim Parkin showing his prowess on trumpet, keyboard and bass while Paul Butler gave us most of the lead vocals either from the drum kit, the keyboard chair or around solos on saxophone, trumpet and guitar. Somehow none of these were overdone, each slight contribution adding extra colour and warmth to an already heated room.
The audience responded with approval for the new tracks, and outright adoration for the old, the familiar nonsense lyrics and funky groove of Chicken Payback showing that the band are still a touch rusty around the edges – but haven’t lost their knack for a good time on stage. This carried over to everyone in the venue, and long after they’d left.
The Bees played: These Are The Ghosts, Who Cares What The Question Is?, Silverline, Tired Of Loving, Wash In The Rain, Change Can Happen, Stand, Winter Rose, Listening Man, Better Days, Got To Let Go, The Russian, A Minha Menina, Chicken Payback and I Really Need Love