Noah and the Whale + Exlovers
Roundhouse, London
May 16, 2011

It’s a little known piece of Webcuts folklore that Noah and the Whale once played in my living room. Gladly, it was before my time, otherwise a compulsion to head downstairs and have words would‘ve been hard to resist. A sell-out show at the Camden Roundhouse is not to be sneered at, but if commercial success or the ability to fill a room is the barometer in which all great music is measured, we’re on (and have been for decades) very shaky ground, and when superlative-inducing American folk-rock act Okkervil River are playing across town, clearly in the wrong place.

Noah and the Whale do two things well. Firstly, a good impression of persuading an audience that their songs are lasting and memorable, and secondly, the performance of these songs reveal a band knowingly adept in their art. Their hokey, folky, earnest hoedowns reek of studied Americana (Waits, Springsteen, etc.), and unlike Okkervil River, tread a mediocre path of cookie-cutter masses-serving folk-pop, with many of their songs set adrift in such unimaginatively titled vessels like Last Night On Earth‘s [review] “Life Is Life“ and “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N“. Could it be the inspirational well has run dry following the heartbreak-fueled The First Days Of Spring [review]?

“This is the romantic part of the set. Anything can happen”, offers Noah and the Whale’s birthday boy Charlie Fink, during “The Line” but nothing does happen. The roof doesn’t fall in, speakers fail to explode and no spontaneous Camden-ite copulation either to liven up proceedings, despite the cat-calling of their enraptured female fans. If a begrudging comment was to be levered in their direction, Noah and the Whale dressed nice and played their instruments well. People cheered. People danced. Their mothers would be proud. But for one reason or another, it left me unmoved.

Stage warming rising stars Exlovers were the edgy entrée of the evening. Their half hour set was enough to get the blood pumping before the arrival of Noah and the Whales doled out cardiac arrests. Here was a young band who sound like a young band should, aggressive and arresting with bursts of melody and searing guitars, and boy/girl harmonies that didn’t pin their hopes on the big chorus sweepstakes. Recent single “Blowing Kisses” still remains one of the best singles of 2011 and the potential therein lies for their to-be-released debut album to follow through. As for Noah and the Whale, well, l.i.f.e.g.o.e.s.o.n.

Give Me a Little Love
Just Me Before We Met
Blue Skies
Give It All Back
Love of an Orchestra
Life Is Life
The Line
My Door Is Always Open
Wild Thing
Rocks and Daggers
Five Years Time
Shape of My Heart
Tonight’s the Kind of Night
Waiting for My Chance to Come
The First Days of Spring
Old Joy