Live Review: Knox Hamilton and Fenech-Soler at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 26th April 2017

By on Friday, 28th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

You know that saying, “war makes strange bedfellows”? If you consider surviving the music business a kind of war, then maybe it isn’t so surprising that bands choose unexpected tour mates. One major benefit of choosing a band to tour with you whose genre doesn’t match yours: priceless exposure to fans who might not otherwise come across your music. That’s what I’m thinking was the thought process behind the North American coheadline tour starring Little Rock, Arkansas band Knox Hamilton with Northamptonshire brother duo Fenech-Soler, which began in earnest in Washington, DC, on Wednesday night. The tour will take the two bands up the East Coast, into Canada, across America and down the West Coast.

As kids, brothers Boots and Cobo Copeland worked in a thrift shop on their summer holidays. When it came time to name their band, they recalled a photo from a ‘70s yearbook with a hip looking dude named, you guessed it, Knox Hamilton. You can picture this dude now hanging out with Fleetwood Mac, can’t you? Singer Boots wears a black knit hat just like Aussie Hamish Anderson does, and the band dress like they’re ready to break out a harder rock number. However, this band’s style is definitely more pop than rock, and this has likely helped them rack up a good number of keen fans. One girl behind me spent nearly their entire set screaming with excitement, then yelling requests to the stage. Odds are you must be doing something right if you’ve got fans like her.

Knox Hamilton in DC

Despite the lack of an actual live keyboardist, they must have saved effects for live performances. It’s hard to imagine a Southern town like Little Rock churning out too many bands who use synths, making Knox Hamilton a curious anomaly with their glittery pop/rock. You couldn’t help but be drawn into the catchy rhythm of ‘Pretty Way to Fight’, and also into ‘Back Porch’, the closest they would get to a Springsteen-esque moment. ‘Work It Out’, with an anomalous introduction of xylophone notes, was the clear fan favourite of their set. Its unexpected camp feel with its rapidly sung lyrics that bounce on leads me to the lesson of the night: don’t judge a dude by his beard, hear him sing first. File them next to San Cisco’s earlier work.

Ben Duffy of Fenech-Soler

We’ve been supporters of Fenech-Soler for as long as I’ve been writing here at TGTF. That’s a really long time! In 2011, I saw them open for Example at Manchester Apollo a few days after my birthday, but seeing stick figures on a stage didn’t do it for me. They were supposed to appear at both SXSW and the Great Escape 2 years later but unfortunately for me, they didn’t show. By 2014, I’d lost all hope they’d ever come to Washington, so I went up to Brooklyn on a Saturday to see them. They didn’t disappoint. Three years on and with three albums under their belt, I was beyond pleased for them to finally make it here and to begin their first-ever major North American tour in our city.

Fenech-Soler in DC 4

The question that must be on the minds of any long-time fan of theirs has to be, “what do they sound like now as a duo?” A very reasonable question, even with a touring keyboardist and drummer. This evening’s rendition of ‘Last Forever’, known on record for its irrepressibly summery vibe, had been reworked to a much languid, less cluttered version. To be completely honest, I was aching for the original live version. However, fans, don’t lose heart. Because Ben and Ross Duffy have always been the driving force of the songwriting for Fenech-Soler, what’s on current album ‘ZILLA’ and what is up ahead for them isn’t likely to stray too far from their successful formula, I don’t think. Dance fans in particular will enjoy their live performance more too: they’ve chosen to showcase less tracks in a set to allow for longer outros, which crescendo towards even more massive climaxes.

Ross Duffy of Fenech-Soler

One direction they’ve already shown the wherewithal to experiment with – and to do it well too – is with covers, the rumour being that there’ll be a whole slew of them released together on record sometime soon. Prince and David Bowie covers are already on their SoundCloud, and a particularly excellent version of Janet Jackson’s ‘Control’ slayed the DC audience. The lively ‘On Top’ and brilliant ‘ZILLA’ single ‘Kaleidoscope’ frontloaded their set with plenty of vigour, with fans all too eager to dance along. Of course, there was plenty of pilfering from their back catalogue too, from one of the first songs the brothers ever wrote, ‘Stop and Stare’, to the fantastic ‘Demons’ and ‘Somebody’ from 2013’s ‘Rituals’.

Fenech-Soler in DC 1

Their hour set flew by and before we knew it, we’d reached the encore. ‘In Our Blood’, with its bursts of syncopated compressed synths and Ben Duffy giving us his all on vocals was, in a word, incredible. While myself and everyone else would have loved for Fenech-Soler to have played every single banger they’d ever recorded, we’ll just have to be happy with the thought that they’ll return to us for another all-out dance party soon. America is theirs for the taking. Catch both bands on tour in North America over the next few weeks, including in New York tonight at Bowery Ballroom.

After the cut: Fenech-Soler’s set list.

Fenech-Soler Set List:
Night Time TV
On Top
Kaleidoscope
Control (Janet Jackson cover)
Last Forever (new version)
Demons
Conversation
Stop and Stare
//
In Our Blood

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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