Live Review: NME Presents: Friendly Fires, White Lies And The Soft Pack
Our Stateside extravaganza makes one last stop. Slims, San Francisco, Saturday, April 11
As the travelling circus of the NME Radar Tour USA prepares to pack up its clowns, freaks and stripy tents, there’s just one place left
to feel its garage-gloom-disco wrath: The City By The Bay. Roll up, roll up relatively local boys (well, San Diego’s only 500 miles away) The Soft Pack, who might not be the most original of bands, but beg, steal and borrow their moves from all the right places. Guitarist Matty McLoughlin has evidently taken cues from his hometown heroes Drive Like Jehu, his downstroke incisions adding a much-needed sense of urgency to their brand of deadpan Strokesian garage.
If all that is a little too frivolous for you, run for relief to the black-clad bosoms of White Lies, whose ambitions to invoke the cold industrial terrains of Joy Division’s Manchester or Tubeway Army’s London prove largely successful among the hordes of curious anglophiles who cheer their ominously lit arrival. The chilly sheen of the set is as ever hard to resist, with their most impressive moment ‘To Lose My Life’ a lesson in melodrama worthy of vocalist Harry McVeigh’s best Midge Ure impression.
To a nation not famed for taking to British rock’n’roll’s oft-detached nature, it initially feels a bit aloof, and they don’t quite hit the neck-hair-shivering mark they’re aiming for until the close of their set, when they crash through grey despair with the suddenly animated romanticism of unabashed ballads ‘Death’ and the spaghetti-Western infused ‘The Price Of Love’.
Friendly Fires certainly don’t need an energy boost. The US has not had the opportunity to watch Ed Macfarlane develop from the slightly reticent nerd of the earliest FF gigs – they’ve instead just been presented with the finished product. He cuts a captivating figure; part Ian Svenonius, part Simon LeBon and all hips.
From the moment the beat drops for opener ‘Lovesick’ he grabs your gaze and refuses to give it back. Breathless former single ‘Jump In The Pool’ receives the biggest response, with its neat combination of ‘Rio’-era Duran Duran and lush, introspective shoegaze melodies. ‘Skeleton Boy’ escalates with electro-house precision and a chorus as cheeky as it is bombastic, while ‘In The Hospital’ tonight owes as much to the influence of Sly & The Family Stone as it does to theambidextrous percussive work of drummer Jack Savidge.
The falsetto-led ‘Photo Booth’ is as compulsively funky as ever, but the crowning moment comes, as always, with the irrepressible ‘Paris’, motored by an intermittent synth pulse and sent soaring with an epic chorus that is as reflective of their post-hardcore roots as their palpable love for a hands-in-the-air club climax. The crowd
may remain technically earthbound, but the mood here is interstellar.