SXSW review: Fanfarlo, March 17/18, Galaxy Room

Austin, TX – You go to some bands’ live performance because you like their theatrics, presence, or the way they command the crowd. These are the typical bands you seek out in SXSW, and as a photographer I guess I live for those bands, waiting for their sudden knee-jerk reaction as boons. And then, there are bands whose music so glaringly trumps anything else they do that listening becomes the priority. And if each SXSW visit you have such an experience, you count yourself lucky. Well, I think I have just had such a moment (and it doesn’t mean that everything else has to be bad). Fanfarlo, of London, first came onto my radar last year with the quirky Harald T. Wilkins. Yes that is the name of the song. Somewhere in Guardian UK’s review of their show last year, it was mentioned that a part of the song sounded like it’s played backward. So, I went and played the song backward. I don’t think I’ve tried that many times, yet every other time the number became jumbled beyond recognition. Try it yourself. It’s a little unnerving that Wilkins is enjoyable in reverse… albeit in a weird way still sounding very similar.

That, obviously wasn’t why I now seem to worship them like Pagan idols – although I take no responsibility as a false prophet if you do reverse every song and come up frustrated (something for all musicians to contemplate now… making records that sound good both ways). Their first set in Austin this year would have left you a godless heathen, anyway. Starting with The walls are coming down, rushing to Wilkins and finishing with Luna barely 30 min after trying to work out the sound systems, that set was not particularly spectacular. The band looked tired as well (although it may also have been the intentionally 80s costumes). I think at one point the violin/mandolin actually blurted that she felt like she was modeling with all those cameras in her face.

So I went to see them again for a fair assessment. Galaxy room was back-lit by the afternoon sun, and the red walls made for a much more interesting set than the earlier one. I think they started with a duet version of I’m a pilot, and ran down their entire album except If it is growing and Good morning midnight. Surprises at the live shows are well choreographed. A wall of sound that followed Fire escape served as transition into The walls are coming down. I can only imagine that the transition to Wilkins, one entire bar sang by the whole band, has no relation to the mothership and air pressure on Earth (you know, 1 bar?) Yeah sorry that’s a horrible joke. Vocal was accurate if somewhat buried, but that tends to happen in live shows so there’s no big complaint. The highlight in their record, for me, is the trumpet. Smart and frequent uses of it’s expansive sound carried each section of a melody to the next, reminds me a little of Camera Obscura, and it’s one that I wish people might use more. Btw, some of the identification of the songs might be off. Because I listened to the record extensively, the songs had totally internalized into one gigantic Fanfarlo label. Which seems to be what others at the concert experienced – general merry-making complete with dancing, nodding/tapping, and the girls beside me were swaying even while sitting on the marble counter, feet off the ground. And when it’s all said and done, the dancing mob gave a orchestra/ballet type applause, that lasted ~ 30 seconds. I’d hate to be that Paste party MC who must be the party-pooper. The take-home message if you’ve skipped all the rambling above: go and listen to them. Either reverse or the normal way – I’m sure you’ll start to skip along the road singing.

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Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Everything, South By Southwest

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