Live Review: Fanfarlo at Iota, Arlington, VA – 11 December 2009

By on Monday, 14th December 2009 at 2:00 pm

a-fanfarlosignWhat’s up with all the gigs I’ve been attending lately? They’re all selling out! Obviously, this is wonderful for the acts themselves, especially for those from the UK or Europe who have traveled to play venues here in America and wondered how they’d be received. But the average punter like me ends up feeling claustrophobic, and the whole experience is a little too intimate for my liking. (If you get my drift!) All this was repeated last night for Fanfarlo‘s set at tiny Iota, a venue/cafe combo in Arlington, Virginia, just across the river from Washington D.C.

The opening act was Brooklyn-based Freelance Whales, who I’m very sorry to say I missed because 1) the traffic into Arlington and trying to find parking were both ridiculous, 2) the door policy was confusing so I got into the sold-out venue late, and 3) I was interviewing Cathy Lucas and Amos Memon of Fanfarlo next to canned tomatoes and olives in the basement of Iota during their set (interview coming soon on TGTF). But the London-based folk/pop band’s performance was sweeter than sugar.

g-fanfarlo5The first song they played was ‘Drowning Men’, with just three of their six members – Simon Balthazar (lead vocals / guitar), Lucas (backing vocals / mandolin / violin / and a bunch others), and Memon (drums). I decided this was a nice, smooth introduction to the throng who was made up of people who had read about this gig in the Washington Post and had never heard a lick of Fanfarlo prior to this night. Next, with all of their members, was ‘I’m a Pilot’, the opening track on their debut album ‘Reservoir’ and my absolute favourite of the 11 tracks on it, came in sounding just as it does when you push play on the album, with the stomping, scraping, and piano chords. But the majesty of the song live can’t be compared to the recording. Simon Balthazar and Cathy Lucas‘s perfectly harmonising vocals have to be heard live to be believed, especially in the chorus of ‘but kid I’m a pilot / it’s all I believe in‘. Sigh.

What a nice early Christmas present we received: they played us two new songs, ‘Atlas’ and ‘Waiting in the Wings’, which both had the Fanfarlo magic we know and love. On the latter, Balthazar swapped his acoustic guitar for an electric, making the song a bit more rockier than we’re used to on Fanfarlo tracks. ‘Luna’ was another highlight of the set, with Balthazar ditching the guitar altogether for a single drum and later his clarinet on which he serenaded the club with. Simply brilliant.

c-fanfarlo1There isn’t much space to hide in Iota (it’s really that small), so after ‘Luna’ the band tried to disappear into a corner of the club and looked like they were discussing whether to return for an encore. To our happiness, they bounded back on stage to play one final number that which Balthazar prefaced with some jokey banter about there possibly being ghosts in the place. His winsome smile before his band launched into ‘Ghosts’ was quite appropriate for the night: everyone who had been packed into the small Iota venue space left with grins on their faces and the knowledge that they had been treated to something really special in Arlington that night. I have good news for you Brits: they are set to tour early next year with Mumford and Sons. Talk about a dream line-up.

After the jump: set list and photos.
Apologies in advance for the darkness of the photos; the venue asked that no flash be used, so I followed their rules. After the gig, Simon expressed his appreciation for not blinding him and his band and was happy to pose for this photo for us. Thanks Simon!


Set list:
Drowning Men
I’m a Pilot
Finish Line
Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for a Very Long Time
Atlas (new song)
The Walls are Coming Down
Waiting in the Wings (new song)









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3 Responses

[…] Catch this video of Fanfarlo from Monday night. They made their American network television debut, performing ‘Harold T. Wilkins or How to Wait a Very Long Time’ on the Late Show with David Letterman. Oh, how is it possible that it’s been 2 months since I’ve seen them live? Oh, the memories! […]

[…] now feel sick that I missed them as openers to Fanfarlo at Iota on 04 December 2009 in December, and then at a sold-out gig at the downstairs Black Cat Backstage when I was busy […]

[…] place for country / folk-type acts to play in the D.C. area (for example, the venue played host to Fanfarlo last December). So for Laura Marling’s first appearance in the Washington DC area, what better place to see […]

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