Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
Noah & The Whale and Robert Francis at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangWhen Noah & The Whale made their debut Toronto appearance back in September of last year, I noted how effectively they were able to offset the inherent twee-ness of their debut Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down in a live setting simply by turning up the rock – not only did those songs survive being run through a distortion pedal, they actually benefited from it. That being said, the gig still only rated about an “all right” – they were a band who wrote some good pop songs and delivered them well, but I didn’t sense that certain something that implied they could be more than that.
Their second record First Days Of Spring certainly went a long way to changing that opinion. Both the emotional rawness of the subject matter and the spare, orchestral dressings were unexpected and certainly earned the band a re-think in these parts, so Saturday was dedicated to seeing them perform not once, but twice in Toronto. The first opportunity came courtesy an in-store performance at Criminal Records bright and early at noon – convenient for those with Hallowe’en plans that night but a bit of an ordeal for those unaccustomed to having to be doing anything, anywhere at that time on a Saturday. This apparently included the band, who looked a bit bleary-eyed as they got up to play in front of a fairly packed store of fans, including no shortage of under-agers who wouldn’t be able to attend the show later that night. Their set was short – four songs, I think – but sweet and highlighted by Spring‘s “Love Of An Orchestra”, which one would have expected to be the most difficult to translate live with just a five-piece band but which they managed to do quite well. This boded well for the full show.
A show for which I missed most of opener Robert Francis’ set, thanks to a mix-up regarding set times. The couple of songs I did catch from the Los Angeles native, who’s just released his second album Nightfall, sounded alright in the earnest, rock-radio singer-songwriter sense, but didn’t make me especially wish I’d arrived earlier. And it meant a shorter wait for Noah & The Whale and an earlier finish time, both of which were alright with me. In the spirit of the season, the band had invited fans to come dressed as their favourite dead celebrity and for their part, they took the stage in simple but suitably corpse-like whiteface makeup and perhaps intended to satisfy the dead celebrity part of the theme with the covers that opened their set. Certainly Buddy Holly (“Everyday”) and Jackson C Frank (“Blues Run The Game”) no longer walk amongst us, but it’s not clear how “You Are Always On My Mind” was supposed to fit the meme – Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson and Pet Shop Boys are all decidedly alive. Maybe they were going for Elvis? Hard to say.
Following that opening trick-or-treat, it was all Noah & The Whale. They began with “Give A Little Love” from Peaceful but the bulk of the show would be devoted to First Days Of Spring, and Noah & The Whale are obviously believers in the adage of every problem looking like a nail when all you have is a hammer. In this case, the nail being the question of how to recreate their songs effectively on stage and the hammer being, well, volume. Just as they were able to beef up the older material and avoid having their lunch money stolen with a heavier approach last time, they were able to recreate the sense of scale of the new material, if not the delicacy, by turning up. This is not to say they bludgeoned the songs, far from it. Instead they showed just how effective a guitar, piano, bass, fiddle and drums could be when properly and dynamically arranged. And just as the depth of emotion underpinning the songs helped First Days Of Spring transcend some of Charlie Fink’s barer, more awkward lyricism, it also made the noisier interludes of the show feel more cathartic than indulgent. So while the show had a quotient of angst, it was still primarily a fun affair – there was no “Five Years Time” but it’s saying something that even without playing their biggest song, Noah & The Whale didn’t leave anyone wanting.
Mix talks to Fink about the recording of the record, there’s a video acoustic session with the band at They Shoot Music and Spinner reports back from a screening of the film portion of The First Days of Spring in New York.
Photos: Noah & The Whale @ Criminal Records – October 31, 2009
Photos: Noah & The Whale, Robert Francis @ The Horseshoe – October 31, 2009
MP3: Noah & The Whale – “The First Days Of Spring”
MP3: Noah & The Whale – “Blue Skies” (Twelves remix)
MP3: Noah & The Whale – “Blue Skies” (Yacht remix)
MP3: Noah & The Whale – “2 Bodies 1 Heart”
Video: Noah & The Whale – “Love Of An Orchestra”
Video: Noah & The Whale – “Blue Skies”
Video: Noah & The Whale – “Five Years Time”
Video: Noah & The Whale – “2 Bodies 1 Heart”
Video: Noah & The Whale – “Shape Of My Heart”
Video: Robert Francis – “Nightfall”
MySpace: Noah & The Whale
MySpace: Robert Francis
Austin City Limits (the television show) is streaming videos of performances from their shows online – check out this one featuring M Ward and Okkervil River or this one with Andrew Bird and St. Vincent to get started. And yes indeed, those archives do go back.
A note to Canadians that the Beautiful Noise concerts that were recorded at the Berkeley Church in Toronto last Spring are now airing on SunTV on Saturday nights. Almost makes me wish I had cable so I could watch them.