March 30, 2010
Live review: Noah And The Whale
Roundhouse, London Friday, March 12
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"Move the lamp!” come the desperate screeches from the crowd mid-way through Noah And The Whale’s triumphant Roundhouse gig. Not your typical heckle, but in context it makes perfect sense. Tonight the stage for the band’s biggest ever London show is dotted with granny-tastic Victorian style light fixtures. To be frank, they don’t do any favours for a band who’ve made a marked attempt to move away from the twee label that was once hung around their necks.
“I didn’t think anyone would want to see us,” half-jokes a coy Charlie Fink when we grab a natter with him in a backstage corridor after the show. Surely, after bearing your heart and soul on your last album, simply showing your face would be a mere trifle matter in comparison, eh Charlie?
It’s because of that stunning record – ‘The First Days Of Spring’ – that we’re here tonight. Spurred by songwriter Fink’s heartache, the band’s second record was a glorious, rousing tribute to love lost, and of doing as best you can to get the hell over it. It’s the sound of a band growing up quickly but with grace, and wisely remembering to burn their ukuleles in the bargain.
Opening with ‘Love Of An Orchestra’, like Belle & Sebastian after a supersized bag of Haribo Tangfastics, the tone of joyous, uplifting enchantment is set for the evening. Even their more maudlin moments like the aching ‘Our Window’ and ‘My Broken Heart’, during which Fink’s rich baritone betrays long nights spent alone with Leonard Cohen, are infused with such passion and tenderness that it’s hard to be too saddened. Especially when you hear the triumphant flourishes of the brass section on the latter track.
The night feels cosy and intimate, despite the 3,000 capacity and vast circular ceiling, the band charming with Waterboys prog-folk wig-outs and stadium-rock shape-throwing. The show takes on a new weight, though, as the main lights dim and the no-longer-pesky lamp next to Fink glows amber, setting the stage for an acoustic set. Strumming through ‘I Have Nothing’ with a trio of backing singers murmuring angelically in the background, Fink’s curls bob in front of his eyes and couples in the crowd cuddle, their actions saying everything you need to know about this epically moving songwriting. With pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole coming onto the stage for a rendition of ‘My Door Is Always Open’, the track is infused with a warm double shot of Americana which melds perfectly with Fink’s ever-so-British stage manner. Bassist Urby Whale and fiddler Tom Hobden slink back to join in with the harmonies, indulging in some appropriate folk club-style finger-in-ear action. Superb ain’t even the half of it.
As they slide into the title track from their debut album, ‘Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down’, as well as older song ‘Mary’, it’s strikingly clear what a progression the band have made between their two records. Sure, they’re nice enough numbers, with some gorgeous violin twiddles and melodic arcs, but they’re nowhere near as affecting as their more recent efforts. So justly confident are the band in their newer material that, instead of reserving crowd-pleasing singles ‘Shape Of My Heart’ and ‘Five Years Time’ for the encore, they round off proceedings by debuting an entirely new track from the work in progress which is their third album.
If ever we’ve heard the sound of a man totally over his heartbreak, this is it. ‘Tonight’s The Kinda Night’ is a bombastic rock’n’roll journey that could have been lifted straight from [a]Bruce Springsteen[/b]’s ‘Born To Run’ sessions. With its fervent, clattering guitars and clenched fist of a chorus, it conjures up cold six-packs of beer, evenings out with the boys and days in bed with girls called Wendy.
Tonight Noah And The Whale haven’t just moved on, they haven’t just moved lamps, they’ve moved hearts, minds and dancing feet too. Roll on more evolution for record number three.
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