Live Review: Noah and the Whale with Bahamas at 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – 17th June 2011

By on Monday, 20th June 2011 at 2:00 pm
 

In one of the most unexpected moves of the year, London’s Noah and the Whale put an album in 2011 that made some people scratch their heads. They went mainstream pop. With synths! (You can read more about ‘Last Night on Earth’ at my review here.) Even if you’ve seen this band in the past, I can promise you you’ve never seen Noah and the Whale like this. Trust me. And I am so glad I dragged my weary body to their late show at the 9:30 last Friday. (Late show, because Marina and the Diamonds headlined an earlier show at the club and I’d already had my fill of Marina going to see her there last year with Mary Beth.)

The opener was Toronto-based Bahamas, which seems like a strange name for a Canadian singer/songwriter whose material isn’t tropical at all. Turns out Afie Jurvanen is a great folk pop singer, with songs that skirt rockabilly and throwback ’60s (think Roy Orbison on tracks like ‘Ok, Alright, I’m Alive’). The man’s voice is warm, he plays a mean guitar and he sports a quiff that Morrissey would approve of. Playing to underage girls is probably not what he expected when coming to Washington the first time, but he was able to win them over: a pretty good feat in itself. With drummer Jason Tait and two female backing vocalists, he showed the crowd he knows how to write emotional songs as well as ones designed to get people dancing.

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for Noah and the Whale’s set. The only other time they’ve played in DC was 2009 at the Black Cat, in front of mostly teenagers and their dates. (Sensing a theme here?) And that was a decidedly lo-fi experience. Fast forward 2 years in time and you’ve got the blazingly bright, loud and energetic Noah and the Whale live experience. As last time, I’m pretty sure I was one of the oldest people in attendance. While the girl next to my left didn’t know any of the songs (err…why are you down the front?), the girls to my mate’s right were squealing and singing along the whole time.

Which is the right reaction, because NATW have hit the big-time. Really. Their new stage show is more designed for festival stages and stadiums, which is not something you would have thought of back in the ‘Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down’ days. ‘Give a Little Love’, which sounds pensive on record, became a guitar grinding behemoth as the set opener. Sweeping songs like ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘Love of an Orchestra’ work well with this treatment, as the music swelled and filled every corner of the club.

And something else: Charlie Fink is noticeably happier and more confident than he’s ever been, with witty banter announcing the “romantic part” (‘My Door Is Always Open’, ‘Wild Thing’) and “party portion” of the evening (‘Rocks and Daggers’, ‘Shape of My Heart’, ‘5 Years Time’, ‘Tonight’s the Kind of Night’). Seeing them play so assertively and with so much raw power, the sky’s the limit for these guys. Just goes to show what a little pop magic can do.

After the cut: more photos and set list.

Bahamas Photos:

Noah and the Whale Set List
Give a Little Love
Just Me Before We Met
Blue Skies
Give It All Back
Love of an Orchestra
Life is Life
Jocasta
The Line
My Door is Always Open
Wild Thing
Rocks and Daggers
Shape of My Heart
5 Years Time
Waiting for My Chance to Come
Tonight’s the Kind of Night
The First Days of Spring
//
Old Joy
L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.

Noah and the Whale Photos:

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