Tuesday, October 7th, 2008
Fe Fi Fo Fum
Photo by Frank Yang
I am willing to bet that most everyone who was packed into the tiny back room of The Rivoli on Saturday night was there to see Ms Laura Marling, she of the fine Mercury Prize-nominated debut Alas, I Cannot Swim if not of the top billing on this night. But, assuming they arrived early and stayed late and took in the entire show, I am also willing to bet that they weren’t just talking about Marling’s set afterwards, but every single act that performed.
It was the final night of the traveling musical caravan dubbed the “Fe Fi Fo Fum Tour” which had been traversing the continent for the past past three weeks, and in addition to Marling featured Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit and Mumford & Sons for an excellent sampling of the current crop of young, folk-based artists coming out of the UK right now. Though it was evident from the tour anecdotes and in-jokes that popped up in stage banter through the night that all involved had a terrific time discovering and conquering America, it was also obvious that they were tired but prepared to give their all for this one, last show.
And in addition to the three acts listed, there was a surprise opener in the form of Pete Roe, a member of Marling’s band who stepped up to play a quick and impressive two-song set of graceful, finger-picked folkistry that gave a taste of what was to come. And if that was the appetizer, Mumford & Sons was the first course. The four-piece, who would also comprise a large portion of Marling’s band, delivered a raucous yet mournful bluegrass-based sound that was steeped heavily in traditional forms but not at all restricted by them. There’s no overt genre envelope-pushing like introducing heavy electronic elements – banjos, mandolins and fiddles are very much the tools of the trade to say nothing of immaculate four-part harmonies – but there’s also no sense that they’re seeking to recreate the past, simply that they’ve chosen this particular style in which to write their songs. And in any style, their songs would have been strong and affecting.
My expectation for Laura Marling’s set was that it’d be a quiet, almost solemn affair in keeping with the downbeat tone of the album. And while it was far from a dance party, by playing with a full band and focusing on the more fully-arranged pieces from Alas, she far exceeded what you might expect from a conventional singer-songwriter performance. Initially, she evidenced some of the stage fright that she’s been contending with since being thrust into the spotlight, stony-faced and staring off into space whilst singing her songs, as though having an out of body experience. But the sheer love emanating from the audience – the constant singalongs were as endearing as they were annoying – and the joviality of her bandmates eventually pulled her out of her shell and by the end, she was smiling and joking along with them. For me, her performance was less a revelation as a reinforcement of the fact that Alas really is a strong record and Marling is a rare talent worthy of all the accolades she’s gathered in her short career. And though it’s usually the strength of her songwriting that’s praised, she also has a much stronger and versatile voice than you might expect – though she tends to favour the lower register that keeps with the confessional mood of her writing, there were a few points at the show when she went high or falsetto and sounded remarkable.
So with Marling having delivered what most in attendance were there to get, there was probably a bit of pressure on the final act – Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit – to prove they were worthy of the top billing and could close things out on just as high a note. And while they didn’t necessarily manage to exceed the bar set by the first acts, they were able to meet it handily and avoid any sort of let down. Drawing on their debut album A Larum, Flynn and company made the Rivoli feel like an olde English pub to which they were the house band. Like the other acts, they demonstrated really remarkable musicianship with Flynn trading off from guitar to trumpet to fiddle while singing his richly detailed folk songs overtop a musical backdrop that was simultaneously delicate and muscular.
Though I’ve used the term ad nauseum out of convenience, I’m not a fan of the “anti-folk” label that’s been attached to a lot of the young, roots-oriented bands coming out of the UK at the moment – all the artists on this night included. It sounds small and reactionary and doesn’t do the undeniable talent of those caught under the label justice. So instead, let’s try a different descriptor – how about “simply wonderful”? Okay, maybe not. But still.
Photos: Johnny Flynn, Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, Pete Roe @ The Rivoli – October 4, 2008
MP3: Laura Marling – “Ghosts”
MP3: Pete Roe – “Let It Go”
MP3: Pete Roe – “I’ll Only Be Dreaming Of You”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Tickle Me Pink”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Leftovers”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Brown Trout Blues”
Video: Laura Marling – “Night Terror”
Video: Laura Marling – “New Romantic”
Video: Laura Marling – “Ghosts”
Video: Laura Marling – “My Manic & I”
Video: Laura Marling – “Cross Your Fingers”
MySpace: Johnny Flynn
MySpace: Laura Marling
MySpace: Pete Roe
Thanks to Thierry for pointing out this odd but enjoyable video of Lightspeed Champion and
SNL‘s Fred Armisen someone named Fred covering The Strokes. I have no context for this clip, and honestly, I don’t want any.
Broken Social Scene have added a second date at the Sound Academy for the end of November, playing on the 28th as well as the 27th. Support for the second date – and perhaps the first? – will be Land Of Talk, which does raise the question of whether or not their cancelled headlining date at Lee’s from the end of September will be made up anytime soon.