Fanfarlo @ Webster Hall
After hearing their 2009 debut, Reservoir, I thought I had Fanfarlo pegged, but as the bridge on the cover of their recently released album suggests, the pop folk darlings are venturing into a new sonic territory. Sure, they're still as charming as ever, but as I learned when I saw them play at Glasslands last October, they've begun to grow teeth.
But before Fanfarlo took the stage at Webster Hall last night (3/6), Young Man and Nightlands played quick sets. I enjoyed Chicago's Young Man when I saw them open for label mates Local Natives at Governors Island a couple of summers ago, but sadly, they fell victim to an astonishingly terrible mix at Webster Hall when within seconds of their first song, the sheer force of the bass drum launched an assault on the crowd and made me feel like an unwitting participant in an old Maxwell tapes ad. The bass was so overpowering and unbearable that people around me actually broke concert cool to clasp their hands over their ears in a desperate attempt to preserve their hearing. Hopefully they fare better at SXSW.
Following Young Man's Richter Scale-tipping performance, Nightlands, the second act, hardly registered as a blip on the radar. For the Philly trio, a harp - not drums - rounded out the mix and offered a much-needed respite from the bass drum of death. Given what we had just witnessed with Young Man's set, the ultra-chill and beautifully melodic Nightlands seemed wildly out of place. Then again, Fanfarlo definitely seems to have its hand in a couple of pots, combining the quiet, safe side of orchestral folk pop with their newer, more experimental sound. (Experimental for them, anyway.)
After a long set change, Fanfarlo kicked off their performance with the surprisingly edgy "Replicate," one of the stand out tracks on Rooms Filled with Light thanks to singer Simon Balthazar's staccato vocals and the quick blasts of keys that drive the song. I grimaced earlier when I saw the sound guy drag the mic stand closer to the bass drum, but luckily, the percussion - though still a bit too loud in the mix - was restrained. The band's new material has a sparse, scientific quality that calls attention to each delicate violin solo or assertive trumpet interlude. Absent from last night's show were the usual melodicas, mandolins, glockenspiels, and singing saws.
And yet, despite the band's adoption of cooler aesthetic on their latest release (randomly projected images replaced the whimsical lights and colorful flags that adorned the stage during their Reservoir tour), their performance, which included a good mix of their older songs, still radiates warmth. Balthazar hasn't lost that endearing swagger to his voice, and I have to say the addition of the impromptu Swedish lesson ("Skål!" Balthazar said as he raised his bottle of wine) was pretty adorable.
Another thing that certainly hasn't changed for Fanfarlo is their penchant for the gradual build-up. The tension in their new material is palpable, but somehow, though they've turned up the heat on the last album, they maintain a tight rein on the music, opting to substitute keyboard solos or occasional taps on a drum machine in the place of a rocking guitar riff or a more traditional breakdown. Looking around Webster Hall, I almost chuckled. The urge to dance is clearly in the air, but without the big moments, the audience's movement is comically limited to polite foot tapping and an insistent, but mild-mannered bobbing. And though I might have longed for them to let it all go, it's that careful restraint in that individuates Fanfarlo and has me longing for more. Given the natural progression on their first two albums, I'm already looking forward to what comes next. It's only a matter of time before that pot boils over.
We're happy to announce that Fanfarlo will be playing "Hotel Vegan" (at Hotel Vegas) at SXSW this year on Thursday, March 15th. Stay tuned for more details.
More pictures and the setlist from Webster Hall, below...
Fanfarlo set list
I'm a Pilot
Harold T. Wilkins or How To Wait For a Very Long Time
The Walls Are Coming Down