Show Review: Fanfarlo at Great American Music Hall, 2/22/10

by Megan Costello on February 24, 2010

Fanfarlo entertaining a loving crowd.

Fanfarlo wants you to know that they are not nerds.  I‘m sitting with them in their supremely messy dressing room after their show to a packed audience at the Great American Music Hall while they go through press clippings from the local weekly papers.  “It’s all because Justin used to work at a bookstore and all he’d talk about was books,” Cathy the mandolin/violin player announces.  “We’re really not that bookish.”  When the cooler of drinks is empty, we migrate to the Hemlock before they have to wake up early to fly to Portland.
If you haven’t heard of them yet, Fanfarlo is a chamber pop group from London.  Think of what would happen if Arcade Fire and Belle & Sebastian had a baby that was brought up by Zach Condon of Beirut. After being tipped off by a friend last spring, I was lucky enough to catch them play an abandoned bandstand in London.  Most of the band arrived at the spot on bicycle, blending in with a young crowd picnicking until the show started.  It was possibly the loveliest way to pass a warm spring day.

Last fall they released Reservoir, their first full-length album.  Since its release, they’ve had two songs featured on major network television shows and have stopped through San Francisco three times. Their first ever radio performance in the United States was for KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic (the 2nd was my radio show on KUSF), and last Monday they were on Letterman.

Monday night’s show at the Great American was just as lovely as the first time I saw them.  Fanfarlo was a perfect fit for the intricate beaus-arts decoration of the venue.   Their performance from lyrics, instrumentation, and costuming is a throwback to the bygone era of the glamour and pomp that the venue was originally built for.

For this current tour Fanfarlo has shrunk down to a five-piece band from six, consisting of musicians that share the duties of guitar, mandolin, clarinet, violin, bass, drums, keyboard, glockenspiel, tambourine, trumpet, melodica, and vocals.  There may be a lot more scrambling about on stage to make up for the missing 6th, but there’s nothing missing in their overall sound.  In each and every song the band manages to fill up the entire space of the theatre with layers and layers of sound.

Fanfarlo opened the show with only 3 members on stage to perform a stripped down version of “Drowning Men.”  With only drums, mandolin, and guitar they proved their talent.  They took little time to banter with the audience, but when they do, the audience connected with them.  Simon, the front-man of the band explained how happy he is to be in San Francisco after a long food-poisoned ride from Los Angeles.  Cathy, mandolin/violin and back-up duty, explained to a happy crowd that they are still trying to move to San Francisco from London. Their enthusiasm and musicianship is unfailing as they make their way earnestly through just about every track off Resevoir, while also adding a couple new songs to the set-list, exciting for those of us who are in the process of wearing out the grooves in our records at home.

Their particular energy when performing is contagious.  Its not a rowdy energy, nor is it ever glitzy or flashy, or even quiet and introspective.  Words fail me to describe the exact vibe they give off, but its clearly something everyone in the audience felt as they swayed and sometimes even danced along.

After an encore of an old, never before played in America B-side and “Fire Escape,” the crowd lingered around to get a chance to chat and personally connect with the band.  In a time where Ivy-League bands are crossing over into mainstream consciousness, Fanfarlo has just the right amount of academia to hit the spot. There are no songs arguing the merit of grammar, but there are songs inspired by sci-fi books from bargain bins and riding bicycles. While they may not yet be rockstars, here in San Francisco we take our musicians with a side of literature and culture.  And after a fantastic performance, nerds or not, Fanfarlo is just another group of young people drinking at the Hemlock Tavern having a good time.

Megan Costello

radio dj and music reviewer stuck in the life of an architectural designer

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megan February 24, 2010 at 12:05 pm

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