Live Review

Friendly Fires, The Horn, St. Albans

They last played here some five years ago to just 15 disinterested punters.

The small Hertfordshire town of St. Albans has many claims to fame. The first draft of the Magna Carta was drawn up at the local Cathedral, and the only Englishman to occupy the papal chair, Pope Adrian IV, was schooled there. It’s musical heritage, although perhaps not as impressive, is still notable. Sixities psychedelic pop pioneers The Zombies formed at St. Albans School, and in more recent times Enter Shikari formed and played their first gigs at the neighbourhood skatepark. It is also the home of Friendly Fires, who presumably when looking for a venue to play a warm up date for the their forthcoming tour, just thought ‘sod it, we’ll do it at our local.’

Perhaps that is a little bit unfair on The Horn, a pub more accustomed to tribute acts (forthcoming attractions include Oasist and the Nearly New Romantics), it’s a venue that Friendly Fires feel has played a significant part in their development, going all the way back to when they were a hardcore band called First Day Back. However, lead singer Ed Macfarlane confesses that they last played here some five years ago to just 15 disinterested punters. There is exactly ten times the audience for tonight’s sold out gig.

With the crowd suitably warmed up by drummer Jack Savidge’s DJ set of tasteful electronica, Friendly Fires open with ‘Lovesick’ from their debut album, and immediately the sort of madness ensues that you only get from seeing a band in a venue blatantly too small for them. We may not be able to copy Ed’s ‘distinctive’ (ahem) dancing, but we are all frugging furiously in the front rows. Despite the small stage, the band have brought their horn section with them, and the disco stylings of the song are just as impressive as during the Summer of 2009, when Friendly Fires were ubiquitous across the festival season.

A track from their forthcoming (and at this point, unheard) album ‘Pala’ follows. I should perhaps confess I have a slight sense of trepidation about Friendly Fires (difficult?) second album. The first single ‘Live Those Days Tonight’ may have been the band’s attempt to emulate a late Eighties rave anthem, but to these ears it sounded dangerously close to ‘Labour of Love’ by Hue and Cry (ask your parents). It doesn’t help that the band have been namechecking (seemingly without irony) New Kids on the Block and N*Sync in recent interviews. Despite this, ‘Blue Cassette’ borrows the intro from ‘One More Time’ by Daft Punk and builds into the sort of lush, woozy anthem that has become the band’s trademark. The crowd love it, and with other newies, ‘True Love’ and ‘Chimes’ also causing outbreaks of sweatiness across the venue, it appears any fears about the next album may be unfounded.

However, it is only fair to also note that of the new tracks we hear tonight, both ‘Hurting’ and ‘Pull Me Back to Earth’ (which Ed introduces as his favourite track from ‘Pala’) seem to eschew the traditional Friendly Fire sound, and both have a distinct whiff of ‘jazz-funk’ about them. They are still fairly invigorating live, but one worries how these songs will sound in the cold light of day.

Unsurprisingly though, the old songs cause the most mayhem amongst the youthful crowd. ‘On Board’, ‘Skeleton Boy’ and ‘Jump in the Pool’ are received like old friends as Ed and Guitarist Edd Gibson launch themselves into the crowd and are manhandled in a way that would get you arrested if you tried it on the commuter train from St. Albans to St. Pancras. They finish with ‘Paris’, the chorus of which is surely one of the finest moments in pop of the last five years. It therefore goes without saying it is wonderful tonight, an amalgamation of dance music euphoria and shimmering shoegazing that has rarely been bettered.

We catch our collective breaths and try to get the beer out of our hair before baying for an encore, which Friendly Fires duly oblige with forthcoming single ‘Hawaiian Air’. Musically it reveals itself as cut from the same cloth as ‘Jump in the Pool’ whilst lyrically, much like ‘Paris’ before it, it deals with the notion of escapism, although perhaps it is telling that the band are now writing about flights to Polynesian Islands rather than Eurostar journeys to mainland Europe.

The final track of the night is the samba rhythms of ‘Kiss of Life’. As the horn section discard their usual instruments to beat seven shades of shit out of various drumkits and cowbells scattered about the stage, the band are obviously enjoying themselves, each taking it in turns to crowdsurf over the (by now) delirious crowd. It’s a fitting end to a memorable evening, and one that I wager Kazabian (‘the UKs no.1 Kasabian tribute act - £7 door / £6 advance’) will struggle to top.

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