The buzz over Fanfarlo has been growing it seems since the London-based band wowed audiences at SXSW this summer. Their debut album Reservoir was originally released in February, but their Atlantic Records release last month and this fall’s heavy U.S. tour has spawned a wave of momentum. I downloaded several tracks from Reservoir this fall but listened to the album in its entirety twice Saturday. I grew more excited as the day went along; it was going to be a fun night.
Freelance Whales from Queens opened the night and I caught enough of the set to get the gist. Like Fanfarlo, they specialize in brass and odd instrumentation to create a mildly eccentric hootenany. Oddly enough, I liked a couple of songs better that were somewhat more twee. Overall, the arrangements were a bit swallowed up in the mix and the vocals seemed out of sorts and tentative.
If I thought Freelance Whales looked no older than reform schoolers, how about Fanfarlo lead singer Simon Balthazar? Seriously he cannot be 16 years old. Absent a verifiable bio online, I choose to believe that he is a Swedish child prodigy born in 1993 until proven otherwise.
Balthazar, drummer Amos Memon, and violinist Cathy Lucas…who looks six months Balthazar’s senior and is cute as a button…began the night as a trio on “Drowning Men.” They were joined by bassist Leon Beckenham and trumpeter Justin Finch for the remainder of the show. All night band members freely traded ukeles for glockenspiels, glockenspiels for trumpets, and trumpets for something called a Fanfarlophone, perhaps this thing:
To address the many points of comparison that have dogged (benefited?) Fanfarlo this year: The most apt to me is Balthazar’s similarity to Sufjan Stevens. Several times Saturday night he would lilt his voice in a way that reminded me distinctly of Beirut’s legato “Sunday Smile.” Note I am not a huge Beirut fan so I am glad to report that the similarities largely end there. And to call Fanfarlo “Britain’s Arcade Fire” doesn’t work at all. I just don’t hear it.
Fanfarlo breezily, if not compellingly, played the larger part of Reservoir, plus one song they wrote “this morning, on the bus.” Highlights were the more energetic numbers like “Harold T. Wilkins” and encore “Luna.” The band was entertaining, tight, and competent; if that sounds like mild praise, perhaps it is. I thought I would be more bowled over by their 50 minute set. Maybe I’d bought into the Arcade Fire comparisons and the truth is Fanfarlo is a gentler experience.
I also took about a billion pictures and that may have distracted me. It was the first night out with my wife’s camera instead of using my cell phone and I went a little berzerk. I also got busted for using the flash, which I swear I had disabled before I started.
You, at least, get the benefit of a swell gallery of photos and next time I will do better on shutter speed. The muted live experience notwithstanding, Reservoir is a sweet record, particularly if you have tried to like Beirut but have low accordian tolerance.
One last note on the State Room itself, which I visited for the first time. It is built like a modified high school theatre. Pews (seriously?) climb the back 3/4 of the performance space and leave just a small floor in front of the stage for standing. It doesn’t invite a lot of energy.
The State Room definitely seems suited for the adult alternative crowd to chill to folk, samba, and jazz fusion, which is well represented the rest of the month. Tab Benoit fans, I’m talking to you.