Show Review: Noah and the Whale at Swedish American Music Hall, 10/22/2009

by Marie Carney on October 25, 2009

Should sell t-shirts that say sweater vests are sexy

Should sell t-shirts that say sweater vests are sexy

I decided to go to the Noah and the Whale show on a whim.  I have random hodge-podge of songs on my iPod, but I never listen to them.  But lately I had been hearing their name about, and English indie folk rock isn’t a risky genre for my entertainment.  So, I blew off my normal Thursday night choices (dinner with a friend and Project Runway) and headed out to the Castro for some music.

We got there with five minutes to spare.  It was a good thing we did because opener Robert Francis started right on time at 8 o’clock.  His music normally would have been phenomenally boring to me since it was basically straight up blues rock, but his voice was something special.  He had an amazing tone and range along with an intense passion that draws you in even further.  His higher register is especially beguiling until he tries to move into his falsetto and his voice starts to crack right before he reaches the peak of the line.  But as this pattern repeats itself you start to feel like the cracks are just a part of the journey and instead of distracting, it adds to the glory and character of the song.

Robert Francis holds the crowd well with his charisma and strong voice.  For the last song he clears his band off the stage and starts off the song at a whisper.  The crowd is respectful and silent, not wanting to miss a note, hanging on to every word, every breath.  It was one of those great beginnings that makes you worry about disappointments to come.

The show continues with its timeliness, with Noah and the Whale walking on stage at nine exactly.  When frontman Charlie Fink walks on stage and starts strumming his guitar I have a bit of a nerdy fangirl moment.  When I see a man in a sweater vest with a mustard coloured button down and messy dark hair all I can think is “rawr!”  Add to that a sultry deep voice and some excellent melodies and the stage is set for swooning.  A big improvement over Robert Francis’ hipster mustache.

Noah and the Whale announce early in the set that tonight is an experiment of sorts, described as “stripped down with more acoustic instruments.”  Everything sounds lovely, but between the seated audience and the mellow tunes, the energy never reaches the peaks that I hope for at a show.  But this all changes with “Love of an Orchestra” the first real upbeat song.  With its rollicking rhythm and four part harmony opening it becomes the first truly masterful moment and the crowd is appreciative, screaming and clapping along.  The song flows into the layered opening of  “Rocks and Daggers.”  The crowd literally goes wild, jumping out of their seats and dancing along.

Quickly though, all momentum is lost as the band goes back into another slow number with “Everything I Love Has Gone Away.”  The audience sits back down and everything becomes mellow again.  After witnessing the greatness that Noah and the Whale is capable of, the rest of the slow, brooding set feels like a let down and attentions start to wander.  Things don’t get really great and energetic again until the final song, “Five Years Time” where everyone is on their feet dancing along, especially the fangirls down front with their Five Years Time choreographed dance moves.

It was an evening full of very talented musicians, but maybe ones that need more experience holding an audience and keeping up momentum?  Or maybe this was just a case of witnessing a musical experiment gone wrong.  Though I enjoyed my evening very much and wouldn’t hesitate to see either artist again, I don’t think either is going to end up on a top ten list at this rate.  But who knows, I’ve been surprised before.  If told I could only own one band’s album at the end of the evening, honestly I would pick Robert Francis because oh that voice!  If it is one tenth what it is live on record he is a force to be reckoned with!  But outside hypothetical worlds of silly dramatic choices, I’ll most likely be picking up both albums.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Vanessa Romero October 25, 2009 at 11:34 am

5 Y l_ <--that's the best I can do at mimicking the dance moves

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