I don’t know what’s been going on with Washington lately but the Freelance Whales show at the Black Cat Saturday night was the second that week (after the Script on Tuesday at the 9:30) that upon reaching the venue, I was in utter shock by the queue that awaited me. The show was not sold out prior to the evening, but there were some people in the queue that commented nervously, “who knows if there’ll be any tickets by the time we reach the front”. I sincerely hope they all got in. But for sure, the Cat was packed that night, if not sold out.
Brooklyn quartet Miniature Tigers were the support. I figured they’d be indie folk/rock like Freelance Whales, with the occasional synth effect or tambourine rattle by guitarist Algernon Quashie. But I definitely was not expecting a Ruby Suns, tropical dance vibe at all (listen to ‘Goldskull’ on their MySpace and you’ll see what I mean). At one point during the song ‘Coyote Enchantment’, frontman Charlie Brand jumped down into the crowd, the red hood on his jacket over his head so that he looked like a wizard from far away. He made his way across the floor, getting bemused audience members to sing with him.
The harmonies between Brand and drummer Rick Schaier approached Byrds-like beauty at times (‘Tell It to the Volcano’) and bassist Alex Gerber added another level of sophistication with his occasional – and may I mention spot-on – whistling. Another highlight was ‘Bullfighter Jacket’, which began with a funny “yah-yah-yah” lyric that just begged for audience participation. (I’m laughing just thinking about it – watch the promo for the song below.) What fun.
I should have automatically assumed that if TGTF favourites Fanfarlo chose Freelance Whales to tour with them in late 2009 (before anyone in the blogosphere knew who they were), this extremely talented quintet were worth my full attention. Fast forward a year later and now they’re headlining their own big tour of North America and judging by the crowd at the Cat, people adore them here. And who wouldn’t? Though glockenspiels are a dime a dozen these days in indie folk bands, Freelance Whales are great songwriters, weaving emotive lyrics through instrumentally complex yet enjoyable to listen to music. Some songs are swirly, almost lighter-in-the-air territory (‘Hannah’ [watch video as a VOTM here], ‘Ghosting’), while others demand you to sing along (‘The Great Estates’, ‘Generator 2nd Floor’).
Whenever there’s a local mention, there is bound to be punter appreciation, as was the case of lead singer Judah Dadone’s admission that he attended local George Washington University and one of the first gigs he ever saw was at the Black Cat. “DC is like our second home, really!” he also commented, leading the university kid-heavy attendance to hoot in approval. They played several new songs including ‘Enzymes’ (which you can snag from this earlier MP3 of the Day post), bassist Doris Cellar admitting, “we’ve only been playing these songs live for 2 weeks”. To be honest, had she not mentioned anything, I wouldn’t have been able to guess this. Guitars, banjo, glockenspiel, accordion, synths, drums – it sounds like a very everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of approach, but for Freelance Whales, it works – and works gorgeously.
Set lists and photos after the cut.
Miniature Tigers Set List (according to handwritten set list):
Rock ‘n’ Roll Mountain Troll
Tell It to the Volcano
Mansion of Misery
Last Night’s Fake Blood
Miniature Tigers Photos:
Freelance Whales Set List:
Day Off (new song)
Generator First Floor
We Could Be Friends
The Great Estates
Enzymes (new song)
Generator Second Floor
7/4 (Shoreline) (Broken Social Scene cover)
Freelance Whales Photos: