Words & Images by: Nell Alk
Friendly Fires/White Lies :: 03.26.09 & 03.27.09 :: Bowery Ballroom :: New York, NY
The concert is sold out. Both nights. Press spots are bursting at the seams. Plus spots are being slashed right and left. Yet none of this comes as a surprise considering the hype surrounding U.K. bands Friendly Fires and White Lies. Kicking off their collaborative tour in Washington, DC on the heels of taking South by Southwest by storm, this dream team is something to behold.
Friendly Fires :: 03.27 :: NYC|
Bowery Ballroom bustled both nights. The lower level bar area buzzed with a moderate number of early birds, "on time" around 9 p.m. and ready to throw back a few before embracing the evening's main attraction. It's safe to assume most people knew 10 p.m. was set time for the opener, but some folks cut it close, filing in just as that act took the stage. Friendly Fires and White Lies switched off opening slots; the former headlined on Thursday and the latter on Friday. Set lists from both shows indicate both bands played the exact same songs (in the exact same sequence) each night. It would seem that the men behind the music were well aware of the fact that they are equally, albeit differently, coveted. Fans were undoubtedly thankful for this insight and appreciated the even split. These were solid sets, too, with each band omitting only one song from their respective ten-track albums. And yet the length of the evening was spot on - not too long, not too short. Just right. We respect bands who, much as we love them, know when to bow out before our feet hurt too much to dance anymore or the spilled beer soaking through the back of our shirt becomes more of a nuisance than a tolerated casualty of concert-going.
Though this review is primarily about Friendly Fires, please do not discount White Lies' sheer brilliance. I could praise this sinister-sounding indie and their live virtues endlessly, and I highly recommend you run, don't walk, to pick up their recently released gem of a debut album, To Lose My Life or to Lose My Love (released in January on Fiction Records). This West London-based haunting pop rock outfit characterized by brooding scowls, black on black attire, rigorous, on-point instrumentation and abject, death-obsessed lyrical content is on the rise and, if you've been paying any attention to music news, truth be told, you probably didn't hear it here first.
Far less foreboding than White Lies' shivers-down-spine doom and gloom aesthetic, at the opposite end of the music spectrum, resides the ever-entertaining and audibly delicious Friendly Fires. Their stage ambiance alone is indicative of the differences between these two trios. While White Lies stood dim-lit beneath theater-type white lights casting dramatic shadows, Friendly Fires took advantage of Bowery Ballroom's colorful lighting equipment, basking in a red glow for most of both shows. Also contributing an additional somethin' somethin' was the disco ball dangling overhead. Its sparkly square facets provided a perfect rotating twinkle under which lead singer Ed Macfarlane danced his ass off. This high-energy Brit twisted his hips to and fro, shoulder-danced from side to side, bounced his bum back and forth and shuffled his slipper-clad feet. Yes, you read correctly. While it escaped my notice Thursday, on Friday I was surprised and impressed to find that Macfarlane's nimble tootsies had the help of utilitarian footwear. Smart man. What's more, it's evident they weren't intended to be an explicitly ironic, attention-attracting accessory. He sported the black velvet slip-ons more for mobility and comfort than anything else.
Friendly Fires :: 03.27 :: NYC|
As mentioned, Friendly Fires performed all but one number ("Photobooth") from their fantastic self-titled album, Friendly Fires (released September 2008 on XL Recordings), a true CD rack must-have (stream the entire album below). Both nights they opened with "Lovesick," a percussion-saturated '80s-esque song accented by a synth solo, echo elements and characterized by brilliant buildups and ever-so-satisfying releases. Macfarlane's emotive vocal range shined during this song, but that's true of every Friendly Fires song, live or otherwise. A standout delivery on both evenings was "In the Hospital," an electric guitar heavy track featuring maracas and, perhaps most noteworthy, Macfarlane motor boating on the mic. A sight to be seen, the St. Albans-based stud with a baby face pursed his luscious lips and transformed an otherwise reserved-for-bored-toddlers gesture into a genius means of imitating an instrument. And just when you thought this song had reached its peak, a brief silence exploded into a lighter-than-air, yet simultaneously rock solid, (and damn cathartic) "Woo!" The strumming resumed and the song marched on.
The punchy "White Diamonds" had heads nodding and feet tapping, the cowbell clanking an added bonus for everyone within earshot. After performing "Strobe," a slower-than-normal, somewhat sentimental ballad (read: perfect make out music) heavily reliant on the synth system and punctuated by crowd clapping, one of the foremost performances of the evening got underway. The booty-movin' "Onboard" featured a range of laudable traits, from Macfarlane's high-pitched whisper-singing to his air drumming while spastically exploring the stage space. The electric guitar and faint synth solo towards the end is, to my mind, reminiscent of riffs in Brazilian band Telepathique's "Eu Gusto." The best was yet to come, though, as not only did two of the four (Friendly Fires tours with a fourth) men make their way to one mic for some fervent maraca shaking and cowbell beating, but Macfarlane also lowered himself offstage into the sea of fans, dancing and singing among his many admirers. This took place on the second night and proved a fond farewell to New York from our favorite endless-energy-pop-disco threesome from across the pond. Needless to say, we all sang along, grinding alongside him. Then, back with his bandmates, Macfarlane signified the end of this song by hitting his head with the mic – Clunk! Clever.
Friendly Fires :: 03.27 :: NYC|
Last but not least, Friendly Fires concluded their set with the romantic and instrumentally textured "Ex Lover," where Macfarlane flirted, "Don't forget to dance." Everyone cheered. His air drumming cropped up again and had me aching to do the same. Speaking of a passion for percussion, Friendly Fires featured double drum sets. Jack Savidge drummed like a demon on one set while live-only drummer Rob Lee attacked the second set. The spectacle proved nothing less than mesmerizing, watching them hit cymbals in unison, each pair of lightening-speed sticks mirroring the other, their wrists little more than flesh-colored blurs. Macfarlane picked up his bass guitar, plucking alongside guitarist (and maraca man) Edd Gibson. This on top of his mic commanding, air drumming and badass dancing, in addition to his fiddling with the synth dials all night, simply adds to Macfarlane's credibility as an artist and multi-tasker extraordinaire.
This British double (quadruple?) whammy, consisting of two outstanding bands breaking it down over the course of two consecutive nights, was an experience not soon to be forgotten by those fortunate enough to be in attendance even just one of the evenings. A high that lasted at least 48 hours, Friendly Fires' performance personality and style proved deeply moving; even as Macfarlane romped around, sweat dripping from his locks and seeping through his collared button-down, his singing and their entire execution made my heart go aflutter. And I don't think I'm alone in appreciating the seamless transition from pristine disc to the live medium, and it goes without saying that these boys will continue to make waves well past 2009.
It doesn't hurt that their record contains no so-so songs, just 100-percent addictive tracks, each number catchy and amazing in its own right. So, go see a show and take a hint from Macfarlane's motto, and one of the album's premier songs, "Skeleton Boy," where the man belts out, "I close my eyes on the dance floor/ I forget about you/ I lose myself in flashing colors/ I've gotta see it through." Talk about an anthem (peep the music video for suggested dance moves). Their invigorating act will be difficult for any artist to follow and all my money's on them thus far for most stellar performance of the year.
Friendly Fires tour dates available here. White Lies dates here.
Friendly Fires :: 03.26.09 & 03.27.09 :: New York, NY
Lovesick, Jump in the Pool, Skeleton Boy, In the Hospital, White Diamonds, Strobe, Paris, Ex Lover
White Lies :: 03.26.09 & 03.27.09 :: New York, NY
Farewell to the Fairground, To Lose My Life, E.S.T., From the Stars, A Place to Hide,
Unfinished Business, Fifty On Our Foreheads, The Price of Love, Death
JamBase | Too Right
Go See Live Music!