State is in Waterford, in the 750 capacity venue The Forum to be exact for Friendly Fires‘ debut headline show in Ireland. Being a Heineken Green Spheres free-ticket only event, many others have travelled to see the show too. Among the locals are visitors from Cork, Kilkenny, Derry and Dublin; eager to see if the band that marry funk, indie, shoegaze, synth-pop and rock on record can translate it to a live setting.
Before that headline slot however we have the very able and willing Anita Blay aka TheCockandBullKid and her band of men. Blay, an assured young Londoner whose songs invariably seem to be about boys, girls and mothers of boys delivers a perfect opening set of frivolous and fun pop with a smattering of electro here and there. Blay (like all of the singers tonight) is a great performer and plays a couple of blog-friendly tunes like ‘I’m Not Sorry’ and ‘Boys and Girls’ (see?).
A word about the sponsorship and branding at the gig as it there has been plenty of talk about beer companies sponsoring music events of late. In credit to Heineken, they have always done a good job of getting the balance right. The logo is never burned into your retina too much at their music events. Tonight, the venue is imbued with a green hue a subconscious reminder of the colour of their bottle. A small trade-off for the free beer and entry to a gig with a great trio of acts.
On a more logistical note, gigs like these are a rare occasion to throw the kitchen sink at the stage and dress up a room with projector screens, lights and LED backdrops galore. It’s certainly pay day for the visual, sound and lighting staff who most likely never get to work with such equipment if a beer brand isn’t involved, a thoroughly modern predicament.
Away from the production, second act Norway’s Casiokids are a perfect support act for Friendly Fires. Mixing synth-driven instrumentals with a ‘more cowbell’ attitude and a drop of danceable pop, it’s like a funkier, more alternative Peter, Bjorn and John with Sigur Ros vocals; a very Scandinavian vocal sound. Indeed, the band are probably the most Scandinavian looking band State has ever seen. They’re not called Casiokids for nothing – the Casio keyboard is centre-stage tonight. They instrument-swap, they sing in Norwegian, they play their most-known tune – ‘Fot I Hose’ and the floor actually starts heaving. The last time State caught the band was at SXSW in an upstairs bar with a small P.A. Tonight, the impeccable sound gives their sound a bit more energy than that time in Texas.
It’s up to Friendly Fires then to make it hat-trick and within four minutes of them taking to the stage, it already feels special. Opening with a thumping ‘Lovesick’ with the genius move of brass to prop up the backing vocals and melodies, this is as good as it can get.
Singer Ed McFarlane prances around like a child, seemingly trying to get as much energy as possible into the microphone. Last week in our interview with Ed, he told State that his favourite album of all time is Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and with the brass tonight, that influence is clear. It’s funky as hell. Quincy would be proud.
Another signifier of the level of the band’s live show is Ed’s comment about being so taken by Foals’ live show that they felt like they had to impress the Oxford band in return. On the evidence of tonight, job done. Their show is as good as Foals live with a similar energy and enthusiasm thrown into the process. Nearly every song tonight is on a level few can match. ‘Jump in the Pool’ gets the expectant massive reaction, ‘Skeleton Boy’ and ‘In the Hospital’ with added brass both sound divine, ‘On Board’ and ‘Photobooth’ pull off the indie-funk disco vibe with aplomb.
The audience lap it up. By the time ‘Paris’ (a song that makes you want to move to Paris on a whim) rolls around, the swathing synth gifts the room with a sense of euphoria. This is the kind of gig you can imagine inspiring people present to start a band. These guys are going to blow socks off at Oxegen next month. A strong contender for gig of the year.
Photos by Karl McCaughey – click to enlarge.