Fanfarlo, live at T.T. the Bear's Place, December 17, 2009
Photo: Derek Kouyoumjian
I wasn't expecting much from London indie-pop band Fanfarlo at T.T.the Bear's last Thursday evening. For the passed month, I had a live performance of theirs bouncing around my iPod, which I downloaded only because I thought their name was cool. This live recording was okay, but I wasn't particularly floored by it.
I liked that they included atypical instruments such as a glockenspiel and melodica, and I thought the vocal combo of frontman/guitarist Simon Balthazar and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Cathy Lucas was as good a duo as any. But still, I would listen to "Finish Line" with my thumb hovering over the skip button, waiting for the glock-adorned intro to finish before shuffling to something else. Through headphones, Fanfarlo just didn't hit me right. They were going to have to dig themselves out of that hole to win me over.
Lucky for me, I had a fantastic vantage point all evening: front row, stage left, leaning against bassist Justin Finch's stage monitor. It was close enough to hear the wooden stage creak as Amos Memon strolled to his drum kit, and the buzz of Mark West's un-amplified guitar strings while he tuned up. The proximity of my ears to the musicians was an important subplot all evening: the electric guitar chords, bass notes, and vociferous snare hits shifted into the background as I soaked in the acoustic splendor of Leon Beckenham's brassy trumpet bombast and Lucas's serene violin rakes. During the set opener "The Walls are Coming Down," I was transfixed by the acoustic guitar and violin interlude. So much for that hole they dug themselves into. But they weren't out of the woods yet. Playing their best song first, followed by their second- and third-best ("Finish Line" and "Harold T. Wilkins") was a gutsy move. How would the rest of the set hold up?
Given that I nearly dry-heaved later on when Balthazar announced they would play a new song, the rest of the set looked grim. It's an unwritten rule that new songs usually suck live, especially for the "sort-of-a-fan" types such as myself. But this was a remarkably stunning tune; Balthazar finger-plucked a sweet melody as he and Lucas harmonized lyrics about the importance of keeping good luck charms close by. It scored a perfect "10" on the dismount as West chimed in with a neatly placed electric lead during the latter measures. So the rest of the set was spec-fuckin-tacular, highlighted by this new song and a frenetic, arpeggio-ornamented version of "Luna." Fanfarlo won me over. I'll think twice before I push the skip button next time.
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