Live Music + Gig Reviews

Friendly Fires @ Roundhouse, London

14 July 2011

Going to a Friendly Fires gig these days makes you want to hit something. Not in a fit of anger, you understand, but such is the abandon with which the band throw themselves into their percussive duties, it just makes you want to pummel the nearest object with a drumstick – even if it means the back of the person in front.

Before taking leave of our senses, however, we have a rather different set to content with, that of SBTRKT. Performing tracks from his deeply personal debut album was always going to be difficult for Aaron Jerome, given the wide open space of the Roundhouse, but unfortunately this is a match of artist and venue that ultimately doesn’t work. Singer Sampha floats his vocals beautifully over the sharp bass and one-line keyboard, but the balance isn’t quite there. Wildfire, which should be the set’s crowning moment, is also the most awkward, the vocals faithfully reproduced by Little Dragon as on the record, but with nobody there to sing them. A case of too much too soon for the masked duo on stage, who are surely at their best in a venue about a quarter of the size.

Not so Friendly Fires, who are most definitely flavour of the month. Second album Pala is clearly giving the fans more of what they want from Ed Macfarlane and co, and the front man continues to impress and endear with his wholehearted performances. Just a minute in to the set he already looks knackered, sweat streaming down his face as his dance hits full stride, upper and lower body making their different bids for freedom around the stage. He’s the antithesis of Beyoncé in the dancing stakes, but still thrilling to watch as he abandons himself to the music.

The success of Pala appears to have galvanized the band still further, and to the accompaniment of a series of colourful projection the quartet set about their mission of creating summer indoors. This they comfortably achieve, not just through old favourites Paris, On Board, Jump In The Pool and the warm hearted Skeleton Boy, but also through newbies Show Me Lights, True Love and Live Those Days Tonight. Just occasionally it is clear the band have a relatively small catalogue of material to draw on, and the set dips a little in the middle, but with encores of Hawaiian Air and a joyously percussive Kiss Of Life the band end with a pure adrenalin rush.

Performing to a crowd of competition winners presents a slight risk in terms of atmosphere, especially with those who have entered every contest in the hope of a night’s entertainment. Those lucky enough to win the Friendly Fires will have surely pulled one of the festival’s more summery nights out of the bag.

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