words & photos: Sarah Rix @sarahrix
“… Belly rubs, hip shakes, jumps… You name it. The guy is a hype-man to the nth degree.”
If you were at Sunday night’s Friendly Fires Splendour in the Grass sideshow in Melbourne, there’s a good chance you’re still buzzing. The English band brought a huge live performance (we’re talking horns! multiple percussionists! a seven-piece band! etc!) to 170 Russell – a hyperactive dance party led by frontman Ed Macfarlane.
It’s always a nice feeling when you’re pleasantly surprised by the opening act.
Starting it off was Gold Fields, a five-piece out of Ballarat that sound like a healthy mix of Cut Copy meets Tame Impala. They were a perfect fit for the bill, too, rolling out extended mixes made for the dance floor. Instrumentally, it seems like they’re all there – too, each band member doing everything in their power to warm up the crowd. There’s some work to be done on the vocals, but they’ll get there, no doubt.
The last time I saw Friendly Fires, it was the tail-end of 2009. They were riding a wave of debut record buzz and NME hype was still a very real thing. I bring up my last encounter with them for three reasons:
1. Goodness gracious, it’s been a while.
By the time they release their next album (Inflorescent, due this August), it will have been over eight years since the band released their sophomore record, Pala. In the modern age, that number seems excessive with audience’s typically not having that sustainable an attention span.
Even still, and perhaps much to the surprise/relief/thankfulness of the band, the Melbourne crowd showed up ready to relive the nostalgia. Opening with two big ones from their self-titled debut (“Lovesick” and “Jump in the Pool”) set the tone for the night, Macfarlane the enigmatic preacher who led the audience through the forever-familiar verses.
He even got in the crowd part-way through their second track, getting amongst – cowbell in hand.
But back to the extensive break. It’s inevitably meant they brought some new tracks with them, including the already-released “Heaven Let Me In” and “Lack of Love”. The initial feedback on other tracks like “Can’t Wait Forever” and “Offline”, which started off sounding like a Daft Punk number, is good. Even with audience unfamiliarity, they were immediately approachable. This a band that still knows how to craft an unrelenting beat.
2. I do not recall them being this bombastic.
I mean this in the best way possible, because the horns definitely helped… but we also really need to talk about the dancing.
Having seen them before, I’m wondering what knocked me in the head to forget just how much of a presence Macfarlane is on stage. Without fail, and for the duration of their 16-song set, he moved like a man possessed. Belly rubs, hip shakes, jumps… You name it. The guy is a hype-man to the nth degree. It suits the music, it inspires the audience to get just as into it, and it’s absolutely the reason you would go see them play – even if you’re somehow unfamiliar with Friendly Fires’ bangers.
3. The last time I saw Friendly Fires, The xx opened for them.
Yes, that xx. I know. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one, too.
It was a valuable lesson learned, though: always go see the opening act.
Their set ended with “Paris” before their return for a two-song encore – “Hawaiian Air” and “Kiss of Life”, the former seeing Edd Gibson playing his guitar with a maraca and latter carried by drummer Jack Savidge.
“Thanks for sticking by us, I know we took our time,” Macfarlane told the crowd. “This is way better than we could have imagined. Thank you.”
Sometimes, it seems, distance and time can be a good thing… You may forget how enjoyable the band is. And in this case, Friendly Fires remain a whole lot of fun.