[Editor's note: All Shook Down accidentally sent two writers to the show, but we're posting both reviews, since they're both so good.]
Noah and the Whale
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Better than: mastering the choreography to Duckie's Otis Redding dance alone in your room.
As Noah and the Whale launched into the closing number of their show at the Independent last night, I found myself behind one of the more stunning collections of concertgoers ever. The song was a majestic rendition of "The First Days of Spring," the title track of their 2009 album; the group in front of me included a couple making out very aggressively, a guy alternating between surreptitiously playing air guitar and air drums, and a man in full animal costume solemnly swaying back and forth.
By this point in the evening, the animal costume -- a mythic Japanese fox, I was told by the small lisping man inside the suit -- had really become par for the course. "Oh right," I'd remember in the midst of bobbing my head to the beat, as his tail swatted my friend in the legs or a giggling passerby stopped to snap a photo with her iPhone.
It takes a pretty excellent show to detract attention away from a dude in an fur suit, and Noah and the Whale's performance was just that -- musically tight, amped up, feel-good, fist-pumping music made for the cerebral set.
Touring in support of their third album Last Night on Earth (released in March), Noah and the Whale have embraced an almost '80s-rock homage sound, filled with keyboards and synth and headbanging guitar hooks. Pop-rock friendly tracks become distinct thanks to frontman Charlie Fink's improbably low, gravely voice: suddenly, it sounds as if Lou Reed is scoring a John Hughes movie.
The band's set largely showcased tracks off Last Night, including excellent renditions of "Tonight's the Kind of Night" and "Wild One." Dapper in suits straight from the '70s (vests and all!), Noah and the Whale tore through an hour's worth of songs with a fervent, joyful energy, punctuated by succinct remarks from Fink in a clipped English accent.
"It's time to cut loose, San Francisco," he said announcing the band's "party set," which was marked by a frenzy of fiddle playing onstage (watch out, Mumford and Sons) and enthusiastic tail-wagging from the fox.
The crowd, delighted to oblige, danced and shook while beaming adoringly at the stage. Their appreciation for Noah and the Whale was evident, but I was struck by the palpable good vibes in the room during the opening set from Bahamas (an excellent, early-'60s pop throwback band from Toronto). Everyone in attendance seemed so content as they white-person danced and sipped beer; they all looked like people you'd run into at yoga class, or at Rainbow Grocery. And yet something seemed off.
"Of course," I realized as I looked around. "None of these guys are wearing skinny jeans. No wonder they're dancing around. Look how free they are!"
In case this wasn't strange enough, the Fox walked in, causing everyone to whip their heads around in confusion and wonder, "Did someone put acid in my drink?!" (At least, I did.)
But, leave it to San Francisco to take a mythical fox in stride (let's be honest, the lack of skinny jeans may have been weirder) and give into the music instead. As Noah and the Whale dove into "L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.," the first single off the new album and their final encore, the crowd sang along, swaying in unison.
Bulky tail aside, the Fox blended in just fine as he moved to the beat with the rest.
Personal Bias: Four words -- Lou Reed fangirl.
Quote of the night:"Yep, only one here dressed like this. At Lady Gaga there were two of us." -- The Fox