Live Review: Friendly Fires and Phenomenal Handclap Band at le poisson rouge, New York City – 12th August 2009

By on Tuesday, 18th August 2009 at 9:38 pm
 

e-lpr-phb4Le poisson rouge (“the red fish” in French) is a cute little club at number 158 Bleecker Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. A sign outside insists it “serves art and alcohol”, which sounds like a somewhat pretentious designation for a venue hosting Friendly Fires, a decidedly unpretentious band. Upon entering the club, you see that the small lobby upstairs sports an aquarium, set off on an angle, filled with koi (but not one truly red fish was to be seen). Why I am going on about LPR? I guess it’s because I never thought a band like Friendly Fires, whose members have insisted their music is for everyone, would be playing some place artsy-fartsy like this. However, after the end of a two-night mini-tour with the band, this was decidedly the swankier and more interesting of the two venues (for one, it’s got a very wide stage making it easier for punters to be closer to the action). But before I digress further, let’s get to the music…

Starting the evening off right were native New Yorkers the Phenomenal Handclap Band. Like most smaller bands I’ve come to know and love, I found out about them through a favourite BBC Radio show – specifically Radcliffe/Maconie on Radio2, who hosted the band for a short, three-song set the second week of July at the Manchester Oxford Road studios. On the strength of that performance, I was really looking forward to seeing this big band live. And I do mean big – their live show comprises 8 people, each who sing and play an instrument. If you like to dance to mad beats, kick-arse guitar lines, synths, cowbell, tambourines, or any combination of these – you will really like this band. The fresh ‘You’ll Disappear’ will remind you of the best, glitter ball disco tunes from the ’70s. The summery ’15 to 20′ has an infectious chorus and will get your whole body bopping to the beat. The PHB will be joining Friendly Fires out west for 2 California dates, in Pomona on 23 August and Los Angeles on 24 August), but us Washingtonians are lucky enough to have them all to ourselves at DC9 on 21 August.

After the stage was emptied of the PHB’s many instruments, it was time for Friendly Fires’s crew to start setting up their stuff. Sound problems caused this to take a lot longer than some of the patrons wanted to wait, who cat-called the crew and annoyed the rest of us who realized rather prudently that waiting for everything to be set just right would allow for the best performance possible by the band. Lead singer/synth player/bassist Ed Macfarlane was jumping up and down outside the green room door like Tigger, obviously impatient to get onstage and get things underway. It was well after midnight before the lights went down again and the band finally took the stage. Macfarlane, obviously upset by the delay and boos, ventured forth with an apology: “sorry for the wait. We’re going to make it up to you!” And with that, they launched into my absolute favourite track of theirs, ‘Lovesick’.

t-lpr-ff9Anyone who wanted to dance at the sold-out venue (which I believe was the majority of gig-goers that night) had only one option: sway with the rest of the crowd, which resulted in a mass of bodies pulsating to the Fires’s beats. With so many people, it was really hot, and after just dancing to and reveling in one song, I think everyone in the club was just as sweaty as the guys onstage. Macfarlane’s arms glistened with sweat as he sang and exhibited his now legendary inexhaustible style of dancing. This was the first time I got to see their new single ‘Kiss of Life’ performed live, and wow, it was great. Macfarlane introduced it by saying they had to play it a couple times after false starts to their concertgoers in Toronto but frankly, I couldn’t fault them for the version I heard this night. Jack Savidge’s drumming, Edd Gibson’s wicked guitar solo, and Macfarlane’s sultry vocals combined to make this one hot song for the summer. Maybe if they play it live more often, it’ll be even better…

The night ended with their now-usual set ender, ‘Ex Lover’, but with a twist. Per usual, Gibson got his cordless vacuum out and was driving it along the fretboard of his guitar and making zoom-y noises with it. Then Macfarlane surprised me by all of a sudden grabbing the speaker directly in front of me and turning it towards us, causing the screaming sounds from all the instruments to seem even louder. Cranking it up to eleven. Yep, that’s what the Friendly Fires are all about.

I’d like to give mad props to Will and the other staff at LPR for keeping things under control outside the venue, especially as many, many people walked up to the door nonchalantly expecting to buy tickets and then were shocked and upset when they were turned away, or turned up late and tried to jump the queue. It could have turned ugly and it didn’t, and they did their job with smiles.

After the jump: Setlists and photos…
a-lpr

Phenomenal Handclap Band set list
All of the Above
The Martyr
Testimony
You’ll Disappear
15 to 20
Born Again

PHB Photos:
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Friendly Fires set list
Lovesick
Jump in the Pool
Skeleton Boy
In the Hospital
White Diamonds
Strobe
Kiss of Life
Photobooth
On Board
Paris
//
Ex Lover

Friendly Fires Photos:
k-lpr-ff1
o-lpr-ff5
t-lpr-ff9
u-lpr-ff10

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3 Responses

[…] Besides South by Southwest in Austin and lots of shows in their hometown of New York City, the band haven’t played much stateside; they’ve played music festivals in Europe and Australia this summer, but so far us Americans haven’t been properly exposed to them…yet. But I feel like they’re destined for something big, because dance feels like it’s coming back big-time, with bands like Bloc Party and Friendly Fires leading the charge. (Incidentally, the PHB are opening for Friendly Fires in the next couple of days out in California, which is a great live combination judging by the fab listening experience I had at le poisson rouge less than a fortnight ago.) […]

[…] that one-off gig at LPR last week, you’re also going to be supporting Friendly Fires out in California. How did they approach […]

[…] Part 1 of my Big Apple Friendly Fires mini-tour adventure was in artsy Greenwich Village. From my hotel and two subway rides and a longish walk away and I was outside the Music Hall of Williamsburg, run by the same folks who run the famed Bowery Ballroom, where part 2 awaited me. Friendly Fires played here before, in October 2008, when they opened for Lykke Li – rather inconveniently, their time with the Swedish pop princess did not include a stop in Washington. This meant that I didn’t get to see them in my hometown until they were headlining their own tour (well, actually co-headlining the NME Presents tour with White Lies). […]

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