October 10, 2008
Sweaty, sexy, sensational: the St Albans trio blaze into town and bring the love with them. Adelphi, Hull (September 26)
Sure, launching yourself open-legged into the fisting throng is mandatory for today’s frontperson, but it’s rare you see someone step down from the stage with microphone stand in one hand, guitar in the other, and set themselves right in the middle of the moshing. Friendly Fires’ Ed Macfarlane does just this for the duration of ‘Skeleton Boy’, and emerges from the sweaty mass of humanity at the end of it looking like he’s been hosed down with bacon fat. Yes, there’s a certain preconception about Friendly Fires that, because they’re from St Albans, they mince around in straw boaters singing about the rules of backgammon. In fact, they “fackin’ ’ave it” (as your average London not-at-all-posho scene-y band might say), with Ed exhibiting quite alarming enthusiasm for every beat of each song, his hips spasming around like a man trying to have molecular group sex with every atom in the room.
Friendly Fires’ album took its cue from New York’s super-cool DFA bands and super-duper-cool Balearic pop, but live, the band – beefed up by bassist Rob Lee – truly are a different story: punky, silly, deranged, grinny, aggro, just as mad as a trouserful of ferrets. As soon as FF bounce Tigger-like into the sexed-up Talking Heads of ‘Photobooth’, Hull’s kids react with the kind of euphoria not seen since their dads got indoor privies in 1987. It’s a scene of pure unbridled freedom through unstoppable music: heavy dance beats, slashing guitars, sublime pop melodies and gigantic, find-a-fat-bloke-to-hug choruses. After Ed re-emerges from the crowd covered in dripping, there seems to be a collective realisation that the band are totally on it tonight; drummer Jack is trying not to grin at guitarist Edd, and the crowd audibly gasps as ‘White Diamonds’ begins. The four-to-the-floor disco album track is transformed into Frankie Goes To Marilyn Manson’s Dungeon, a death disco monster intent on pummelling brains out of ears. Sensational.
‘Jump In The Pool’ and ‘Paris’ are similarly revelatory, their cold Balearic pop sides overwhelmed by the sheer joy of performance. It’s impossible for ‘Jump In The Pool’ to keep its blissed-out qualities in front of people practically tearing open their chests to hand their still-beating hearts to the band, and even though on ‘Paris’ Ed is sweetly singing, “Everynight we’ll watch the stars/They’ll be out for us”, his fist is clenched, his groin is pumping and he’s effectively strutting the Adelphi raw. By this stage, the preppy image of Friendly Fires seems like playful irony, as they make things admirably loose. For ‘On Board’, the band all gather at the front of the stage to bang cowbells, blocks and, erm, skulls, and dance daftly like 13-year-old berks on cider. It’s funny but not a joke, as the techno still manages to stride forth so potently that laughter would be as inappropriate as during sex. When ‘Ex Lover’ closes the set with sheer bedlam, out of nowhere Edd pulls out a handheld vacuum and starts hoovering the fretboard of his guitar like an OCD Thurston Moore.
The band practically have to be dragged offstage at the end of this, and you can see that they are beginning to realise just how good they are. Fast approaching the point where playing tiny places like this is genuinely dangerous, soon it’ll all be about ice arenas, H-bomb pyrotechnics rather than the paper tinsel tossed out here, and massive bags of sanity-destroying drugs to properly bring out the party monsters they truly are. See them now while you can still get properly biffed by their bacon.
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