Friday, December 4th, 2009
Friendly Fires and The XX at The Phoenix in Toronto
Frank YangWhen I caught Friendly Fires at Lee’s Palace back at the end of March, they were here as support for White Lies and their high-energy disco party easily stole the show from the angst-ridden headliners. And while their profile has since grown to the point that they were able to play their fourth local show in just over a year on Wednesday night at the Phoenix, buzz-wise the shoe was on the other foot – the gig was sold out, but that was largely because the show also marked the Toronto debut of the astonishingly-hyped (including in these parts, yes) London outfit, The xx.
The band’s narrative had taken a turn over the past month, gone from focusing on their slinky and skeletal blend of R&B and indie rock to the departure of guitarist Baria Qureshi and their subsequent reconfiguration as a trio, not that any of the off-stage drama had dampened anyone’s enthusiasm for the performance. Very few were playing the “show up late, nuts to the opener” game this evening and when The xx strode onstage, you’d be forgiven if you thought, from the response that they were the main attraction. Coming in, I’d heard that the band were both extremely dull and amazing live – and I can see how both points of view could be reached. To the former, they don’t really do much. Jamie Smith perches behind a DJ booth emblazoned with glowing band logos working the sampler and drum machine while Romy Croft and Oliver Sim stand on either side with guitar and bass, respectively, and do their sleepy, seductive thing. The thing is, what should they be doing? Their music isn’t the sort that requires a lot of visual accompaniment, and if either of them were to act out, it would be completely at odds with their aesthetic. No, gentle swaying and the occasional sideways glance was pretty much what was demanded of them and their performance matches the atmosphere of the music perfectly.
Musically, they struck a perfect balance between reproducing the spaces and textures of XX and stretching out a bit – when you’re working with structures as minimalist as they, moving something around a little makes a big difference. Obviously I’ve no point of comparison, but it was hard to imagine where Qureshi’s contributions would have gone – Croft seemed able to cover all the necessary guitar parts with no problem, and intertwined seamlessly with Sim’s basslines and Smith’s real-time drum machining (is there a word for that?). Playing the triggers live rather than relying on loops or samples kept things from feeling overly mechanical, for as much as technology underpins their sound, the net result is wholly organic. Their set ran just over half an hour – short and efficient, but not unreasonable considering the amount of material they had to draw on – but most importantly, it established that they could weave the same magic live as they do on record. Definitely looking forward to their April 20 return engagement at the Kool Haus in support of Hot Chip.
I’d heard that at other stops on the tour, much of the crowd cleared out after the opener and left no doubt who they were there to see. I was pleased to see that that wasn’t the case here, because really – even if you wanted to see The xx, you paid for the ticket, were already here and unless you were truly committed to the art of the mope, you couldn’t not enjoy Friendly Fires live. As they did in March, they delivered a set that was absurdly tight, pure discofied fun though this time they brought along a little extra in the form of a horn section to go with their manic percussion, synth and guitar maelstrom. In addition to extra players, another benefit of the larger tour was the real estate – frontman Ed Macfarlane took full advantage of the larger Phoenix stage in busting out his uniquely undulating dance moves, all shake and shimmy and equally awesome and ridiculous to behold.
Like the openers, their set was brief by conventional rock show standards – 50 minutes including encore – but in that span they put more sweat and kinetic energy they put into their performance than most bands do in twice the time. And anyways, they played the entirety of their Mercury-nominated self-titled debut plus latest single “Kiss Of Life” – pretty much their whole repertoire. I’d challenge anyone complaining about the length of the show to tell me what else they’d have expected to hear, but really, I don’t think I’d have been able to find anyone complaining. Come for The xx, stay for the Friendly Fires, leave completely satisfied.
Panic Manual, Exclaim and eye were both in attendance and have reviews. hour.ca has an interview with Friendly Fires while AUX.TV has a video interview, eye, Metro, Time Out and Rolling Stone print features and MPR a streamable session.
Photos: Friendly Fires, The XX @ The Phoenix – December 2, 2009
MP3: Friendly Fires – “Jump In The Pool”
MP3: Friendly Fires – “Paris” (Aeroplane Remix)
MP3: The xx – “Basic Space”
Video: Friendly Fires – “Kiss Of Life”
Video: Friendly Fires – “Skeleton Boy”
Video: Friendly Fires – “Paris”
Video: Friendly Fires – “Jump In The Pool”
Video: Friendly Fires – “On Board”
Video: The xx – “Basic Space”
Video: The xx – “Crystalised”
MySpace: Friendly Fires
MySpace: The xx
Have a first look and listen at Lightspeed Champion’s next album Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You, out February 16.
Good news – Fanfarlo has released a new video from Reservoir. Bad news – both Canadian dates have disappeared from their tour itinerary. Actually, make that “terrible news”. The only upside is that I can now go see Blue Roses at the Drake that night, but it’s small comfort. Boo. The Houston Chronicle interviews bassist Justin Finch.
Despite having their Fall US tour scuppered by the IRS, Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch tells Spinner that they intend to return to this continent in the Spring and following the success of the Ocean Rain shows, perhaps play both Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here in their entirety. If you’re a fan of Porcupine, however, you are SOL. Sorry.
Adam Franklin & The Bolts Of Melody have scheduled a North American tour, including a January 31 date at the Drake Underground, that’ll probably cover their 2009 release Spent Bullets and their just-completed new record I Could Sleep For A Thousand Years, out sometime in 2010.