Noah and the Whale
MONA EBERT & ERIC HAMBRO check out Noah and the Whale: “Old debut album tracks were successfully rejuvenated, and the collective harmonies gave earlier collaborations with Laura Marling a run for their money.”
The Junction Wednesday 18th May, £13
Noah and the Whale’s final gig for their third album tour was bound to be sold out. Arriving in time for the supporting act – Ex-Lovers – we felt instantly out of place. Judging by the turnout, one would think that the Junction was hosting a Meat Loaf tribute night. 48 year-old men in white t-shirts were bobbing along rather embarrassingly to harmless pop music, with the wife and (sometimes) kids in tow. Not quite the crowd we’d envisioned.
Ex-Lovers looked just as surprised by the overwhelmingly large, but incongruous turn out. Their songs were ‘nice’ – ‘listenable’ – but worryingly reminiscent of the soundtrack to scenes of the O.C where Summer and Seth make coffee. In fairness, they flipped through fuzzy pop-rock tunes with admirable gusto, but not even the harmonised backing vocals from the pretty blonde keyboardist were enough to elevate the moods of the Meat-loafers. After a half hour set it was high time someone injected some ‘rock‘n’roll’ into the largely stoic crowd.
Cue 50-year old roadie with cool t-shirt: ‘Girls on smoke, girls on weed, girls on coke, girls on speed’. Nice. Clearly a touch more Kate & Pete than Charlie Fink, but who cares. The set began in a refreshingly unpretentious manner with Paradise Stars, which accompanied the entrance of the handsome four.
It took a good three songs for Fink, the lead singer, to look comfortable, but when the band got going the result was impressive. Fink’s smooth, American-twanged voice guided us through a set largely composed of tracks from Last Night on Earth. The band successfully transformed The Junction into the beautiful, hazy Americana that featured so heavily on that record. The crowd responded with adoration. Old debut album tracks, like Rocks and Daggers, Jocasta and Shape of My Heart, were successfully rejuvenated and the collective harmonies gave earlier collaborations with Laura Marling a run for their money.
The slower, “romantic bit of the set”, as Fink put it, was given space to grow. By the time the heart-wrenching lyrics of First Days of Spring came on, the crowd found their rhythm. And so did Noah and the Whale. Urby’s head-banging contrasted perfectly with the stiff mating dance of the grandpa in front of us. The set was slick, the band was tight and their versatility was impressive. Whichever critic thought that Charlie didn’t like performing must have confused him with Ex-Lovers. Pristinely dressed, Fink began to roll with it, taking off his suit jacket as we moved into the “let loose and party” bit of the night – a phrase which verged on being cringe but was saved by Fink’s genuine engagement with the audience.
Microphone stands were cooly tossed between hands and violins were solo’ed to within an inch of their lives. As expected, the newly re-interpreted Five Years’ Time drew jubilant cries and singing-along from the crowd, more impactful now than ever, having moved from twee ukulele to lightly distorted guitar. It was a brave move that paid off. But the most ardent reception was for L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N, a track already close to becoming a modern-day classic. Keen fans began chanting its catchy chorus in the first song of the encore. The band had clearly enjoyed it as much as the audience: “Cambridge, you’ve been great,” was the touchingly humble response that Fink cooed to close.