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Live Review: Friendly Fires and the xx at Music Hall of Williamsburg, New York City – 13th August 2009

By on Monday, 24th August 2009 at 2:00 pm

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).

Brooklyn feels like a world away from Manhattan, what us non-New Yorkers envision when we think about “New York City”. (Just so you know, New York is a considerable hike from Washington, so I’m familiar and comfortable with the city as much as you Brits are.) So I wondered if this crowd was going to be radically different from the one I saw the previous night. There wasn’t much room to move when we were inside le poisson rouge, so I hoped that with a bigger venue, I might actually be able to get my groove on, even though the gig was sold out. I did, sort of…read on…

d-mhw-xx3The venue reminds me of a small version of Washington’s 9:30 Club in set-up – there’s a balcony for people who want to look down and not fight with the crowd on the floor (which, in retrospect, might have been a safer vantage point for this concert). I was able to get a great spot – right at the speakers dead center of the stage – and the place was only slightly filled for the opening act, the xx. Their debut album ‘xx’ just came out last week on 17 August, and BBC 6music made it their album of the day on 20 August. They’re getting played on Radio1, which I take as a good sign. They make for a good match label-wise; the xx’s album was released on Young Turks, sister label to Friendly Fires’ XL Recordings, so it’s all in the family so to speak.

And while you might think it’s quite a leap from the xx’s musical style to Friendly Fires’s, think again: sexy music is sexy music, whether it be sultry lyrics paired with bass-heavy rock of the xx or pained yet exuberant lyrics about relationships combined with buoyant electropop from Friendly Fires. My knowledge of the xx was limited to hearing their singles on Steve Lamacq’s 6music programme, so I really didn’t know what to expect. Live, the xx didn’t disappoint. They are the real deal. The band has two singers – bassist Oliver Sim and guitarist Romy Madley-Croft – which makes for an interesting dynamic all too rare in popular music today. While the band has a subdued presence on stage compared to the Fires (read: they aren’t jumping around onstage and hitting percussion with gusto), they make up for it in emotional feeling in their songs. ‘Crystalised’ and ‘Basic Space’ were fabulous live, as well as their take on the Womack and Womack classic, ‘Teardrops’. I hope they tour in America soon, but urgent note to UKers: catch them in Britain while you can!

o-mhw-ff9You will find me down at the front for gigs, because it’s the only way I can guarantee I can see what’s going on stage. And when you’re at the front, you often lose track of what’s going on behind you. This is what happened at this gig. I turned around and was faced with a wall of people. Where did all these people come from? Obviously, they were here for Friendly Fires. I think the band and their crew were cognisant that gig-goers were not happy for the long wait the night before, so things were set quickly like clockwork and the band arrived on stage via a upper level stage door at the appointed time, to the thunderous applause to all their adoring fans in the club below. Two guys next to me pumped their fists in the air and yelled their heads off. This being my fourth Friendly Fires gig, I didn’t think much of the extremely loud shouting from excited fans. Vocalist/bassist/synth player Ed Macfarlane addressed us in a serious tone, with “we’re Friendly Fires. This is our second and last night in New York. I want to leave here with happy memories, so come on, please!” Looking back at it now, I laugh at this because he had absolutely no idea what was going to happen later that night.

The show was amazing, definitely one of the best gigs I’ve been to in all my life. Everyone in the venue, every girl and guy, knew all the words and were singing along loudly. They were dancing along and were so genuinely happy to be there. I was loving being able to move around and shake a tail feather, which is what Friendly Fires’s music is all about. The floor was moving up and down so much I wondered just how much more force would be required for the floorboards to break under our feet.

p-mhw-ff10‘Skeleton Boy’, complete with brass section, blew me away this night. It’s so very different from the album version (as are most of the songs they play on the road). Run, do not walk, to see Friendly Fires live. The album is great but live the songs are even better. ‘Kiss of Life’ gets my vote for the FIFA 2010 World Cup theme song; the Brooklyn crowd just loved it, and I think even football fans would appreciate its brilliance, especially with Edd Gibson’s wicked, wicked guitar solo that he should be playing on the music video. The only thing that could make Friendly Fires better live: new songs, or possibly them playing some covers to mix things up.

Then came…utter mayhem. During ‘Paris’, a drunk girl decided she had to get onstage, some way, somehow. While she was waving her arms about to the music, Macfarlane was down on the floor with the rest of us, singing away and reveling in the crowd’s reaction to the music. I am rather embarrassed to say this but, since it was through no fault of my own and it was the crowd pushing themselves forward to try to touch the man, I might as well own up to it: during the song, I got caught between him and the stage, completely unable to move. Eventually, he got back onstage and despite his best intentions to gently nudge the aforementioned drunk girl back down into the crowd, she didn’t want to leave, so one of the Fires’s crew had to pick her up and deposit her back into the waiting arms of the crowd. (Somehow this same girl made her way back onstage later to maul Macfarlane with a kiss when he was trying in vain to play his synth.)

While moshers were reported at Friendly Fires’s sold-out iTunes Festival gig in July, I certainly was not expecting this in America. Nor was I expecting the 25+ people who stormed the stage and joined the band for the encore of ‘Ex Lover’. I’m not sure if this is a preview of what’s to come, but it sure made one thing loud and clear: America loves Friendly Fires. And we’re eager to have them back here performing for us on this side of the pond. You Brits have no idea how lucky you are.


After the jump: setlists and photos.

Continue reading Live Review: Friendly Fires and the xx at Music Hall of Williamsburg, New York City – 13th August 2009


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…

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


Live Review: The Soundtrack of Our Lives in New York at The Music Hall of Williamsburg on 11th March 2009

By on Friday, 13th March 2009 at 9:03 am

The Soundtrack of Our LivesThe Soundtrack of Our Lives throw all the right shapes, whether it be the tried and tested rock ‘n’ roll riffs, or the onstage posturing of Pete Townshend or Keith Richards. Thats not to say that around 70% of the time they don’t succeed in bottling some kind of lightening, managing to create something pretty special out of chord changes you’ve definitely heard somewhere before, and if they’re not playing the arenas that they play to in their minds, then its certainly not through a lack of learned dedication to their craft.  Or perhaps ‘graft’ would be a better word, as there is something slighty workmanlike about what they do, which leaves us with other 30% of the time, where songs become self-consciously epic, and lead singer Ebbot Lundbergs’ wild-eyed rock ‘n’ roll Rasputin act drops between songs reavealing him to be well, just a really nice guy.

It’s hard in this day and age though, when it feels like audiences are getting smaller, and people are no longer shelling out money to see bands they ‘quite’ like, and to be fair, even though this venue is by no means full, it says something of the bands desire to convert you to what they so whole-heartedly believe in that they play as if to 50,000 people.

It also says something about US venues that the minute the obligatory uber-fan in the audience starts a one-man mosh pit, he’s dragged away by security and warned to keep it down! By and large, American audiences are a lot less physical, prefering to keep their own space around them. I thought this was only in LA where you spend most of your life in the isolation of a car, but its here in New York too. It’s good news for us belligerent Brits abroad though, as I’ve had no trouble at all getting to within 10 feet of some of my heroes without the usual “I am absolutely rooted to this spot and I wont move a millimetre even to let you past” routine.

It’s no surprise that the band supported Oasis, as they have a lot in common. Thunderingly loud mid-tempo anthems with every cliché in the book that bludgeon you with enough volume and excitement for it not to matter most of the time. However, while Oasis had the zeitgeist on their side, TSOOL are just a touch too derivative to reach those heights themselves. While they may be destined to remain outside the mainstream, that’s no terrible thing, as commerciality may curb their excess, and this is a band that thrive on the stuff at every level; musical, lyrical, and in their performance. There are times when the dynamics work perfectly, the guitars work off each other perfectly, and the keyboards trill and trem in all the right places. If you’re looking for fairly mindless fun that you probably wont remember much about afterwards (and isn’t that the point of rock ‘n’ roll?), then these guys are a good place to start.


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