As Ed Macfarlane leaps from the stage during ‘Lovesick’ to join the mosh-pit, those still streaming into The Olympia shortly after 9pm could be forgiven for thinking that they’d missed the memo about an early start and arrived in time for a very lively encore. But no, this is the show opener, and an emphatic one at that – Friendly Fires are in the house, and it’s clear from kick-off that they’re ready to throw one hell of a party.
“We should’ve come here more often – what the f*ck was I thinking?!” proclaims Macfarlane. Too true. Friendly Fires did the impossible and brought the sun out at this year’s Oxegen festival – but prior to that Sunday afternoon delight of an outdoor shoulder-shuffle extravaganza, it’d been a while since we’ve seen them grace an Irish stage. The alternative-dance grooves of 2008’s eponymous debut album announced them as a force of funk, but it’s this year’s Pala which establishes them as so much more than just another indie band. “If we had a manifesto for this album it was a simple one; make an exciting, colourful pop record”, said their frontman upon its release in May. Quite the understatement. Pala exceeded expectations as a follow-up album – and in a live setting, its songs, teamed with the treasures of that debut, make for an explosive 90 minutes of madness.
No holds barred from the offset, following that incendiary opener, ‘Jump in the Pool’ is unleashed to a frenzied reception – and really, from there, the set barely falters in terms of energy. Incredibly tight musicianship from Edd Gibson on guitar and Jack Savidge on drums, backed by a multi-tasking bass playing percussionist and a duo on brass to add some jazz to proceedings – and at the centre of it all Macfarlane, belting out vocal brilliance whilst commanding over tiered synthesisers and throwing in a bit of cowbell for good measure. To talk about this gig without mentioning Ed’s dancing would be sacrilegious – because from the moment he steps on that stage he starts gyrating, and apart from the mere four minute respite granted by Pala’s slow-jam title track he quite literally does not stop. His unrelenting energy is best exemplified by the progression of his perspiration – by the end of it all, his shirt is a completely different colour. He’s one hell of a frontman and his adoring crowd respond accordingly – it’s impossible not to dance along.
‘Running Away’, ‘Pull Me Back To Earth’, and the mass sing-alongs to ‘In The Hospital’ and ‘Paris’ are all highlights of a 17-song set which is difficult to fault. An encore teaming of ‘Hawaiian Air’ and ‘Kiss of Life’ brings it all to a thrilling finish, transforming The Olympia into an all-out sweatbox of a rave in the midst of a barrage of strobes. Here’s hoping Friendly Fires don’t wait so long to bring the party back to Ireland… and if an Ed Macfarlane Dance Academy should ever come to pass, we’ll be first to the sign-up sheet.
Photos by Sean Conroy.