Fanfarlo, ICA, London
Multi-taskers who keep it reel
Thursday 11 June 2009
It's a hot June evening, and upon a blue-and-pink lit stage, Fanfarlo emerge to an adoring crowd with a lust for Gaelic indulgence and a yearning for some full-on foot-stomping and hand-clapping. It's the type of music that your mum and dad would undoubtedly love, though this is not an excuse for you not to dance along to their orchestral beats.
This band certainly have talent, and, so it would seem, enough money to acquire every instrument under the sun; clarinets, cellos, mandolins, guitars and ukuleles, you name it, they've got it.
"Ghosts" is the first brassy number they play, and as the six-piece cramp themselves on to the small stage, they draw inevitable comparisons to fellow folk lovers Noah and the Whale, but with a more angelic twist and softer vocals. The lead singer, Simon Balthazar, shows off his less than conventional way of knocking out a rhythm on the tracks "Drowning Men" and "Finish Line" as he taps his drumsticks on his mic stand, while the violinist, Cathy Lucas, jumps between keyboards and mandolin, adding willowy and complimentary backing vocals to "I'm a Pilot" and "Harold T Wilkins".
Every member of Fanfarlo seems to be playing two instruments at any one given time, providing a definitive display of musical know-how which verges on showboating, and an eagerness to perform, much like musical school students. "Luna", a real crowd pleaser, ends agreeably with a polite violin solo and a melody that just sticks with you. Encouraged by a cheering crowd for an encore, the band gladly comply. However, they decide to take the show to the floor and form a beatnik/hippie circle where adulation coincides with a well-picked finale of a song by the American band Neutral Milk Hotel.
Fanfarlo have assuredly managed to engage their audience, and for a relatively new band, they have a well-established fan base, which is understandable as they have a wonderful composition and awareness that in turn has attracted music lovers of the Belle & Sebastian generation.
Although it may be a well-worn frame of reference when it comes to Fanfarlo, it is hard to escape their similarity to bands such as Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, though what makes them different is the variety of musical talent on display, combined with a full-blown – and undoubtedly successful – effort to please an audience.
However, Fanfarlo seem to be unable to bring their well-written songs to a finely tuned climax. It's obvious to see that the music they make is winningly whimsical and is shot through with a particular, beguiling beauty. However, in order to get their noses in front of their competitors, they need to harness their extraordinary musical abilities to an even greater extent, pull a few more solos and revel in silent, poignant moments with the power to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
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