NME showcase makes good at the Paradise

A review of Friendly Fires, White Lies, and The Soft Pack at the Paradise Rock Club on March 28, 2009

, Staff Writer

British music magazine NME has throughout their nearly sixty years in circulation touted up-and-coming British bands, having at times featured the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Jesus & Mary Chain. Continuing this trend of discovery, NME is backing two young bands, Friendly Fires and White Lies. In addition, from Southern California, The Soft Pack took opening duties. All three bands are relatively fresh from performances at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, but Saturday night’s performance at the Paradise gave no indication that anyone was road-weary. Although all three bands performed impeccably, the evening felt much too short, each set clocking in at around 45 minutes, resulting in a show that felt a little more like a showcase and less like a concert.

Friendly Fires are filled with bombast and excitement, and they hit the stage running with “Lovesick”, a song that would quickly set the tone for their brief set, a sort of funk/post-punk amalgamation, driven forward by an unapologetic disco beat provided by drummer Jack Savidge as outer space sounds flew from left to right. The energy was peaking even as the band performed their first song, and yet they were able to maintain the drive all through the set, lead singer Ed Macfarlane throwing himself around stage with little regard for his own body. Keeping a clear distance from Macfarlane’s ragdoll act was guitarist Edd Gibson, who strummed relentlessly against his guitar strings, surely wearing out a pick or two, unless he has the most calloused fingers ever.

Though the set lasted only a brief six or seven songs, that didn’t stop the band from milking ever second out of each tune: they would stretch songs out to sometimes twice their length, letting the beat drive things for periods of time while everyone freaked out on stage. Needless to say everyone was pressing forward, dancing hectically to the band’s frantic songs. Friendly Fires stuck pretty close to the formula they established with “Lovesick”, but that didn’t detract from the performance very much. “Skeleton Boy” replaced most of the band’s punk sound with more funk and touches of a house beat thrown into the mix. “On Board” was an even more straight up funk tune, complete with high-pitched male vocals and a bass-line heavy on the upbeats.

The White Lies’ debut album has hit number one in the UK charts, but this has not translated to the biggest amount of buzz here in America, though there had been some rumblings about the band before their arrival. It does seem to be the case that this is a flash-in-the-pan kind of band, though: Hot Fuss happened nearly five years ago, and that was a more successful attempt at a synthpop 80’s revival than this group. Which is not to say that the band wasn’t worth the listen. Their songs were catchy, and the opener of “Farewall To the Fairgrounds” featured some fine guitar chugging, as well as a fairly powerful build-up to the refrain of “Keep on running. There’s no place like home.” Harry McVeigh’s singing was morose and appropriately suited the band’s sound, and he demonstrated some good versatility, sliding through his range with precision and confidence.

They closed with “Death”, a song that suitably ended their set: bouncy piano samples and swooping synthesized rays of sound decorated heavy percussion as McVeigh sang on alternating measures, allowing each line of his to sink into the fabric of the song before continuing the verse. The song ended with a build-up and a rocking climax which ended quickly and abruptly. Overall, The White Lies were certainly well-received, and their music is enjoyable enough to hear, it’s just that they aren’t really doing anything that hasn’t been done before, and I’d be surprised to see them do nearly as well on their sophomore studio effort.

The Soft Pack (formerly The Muslims) kicked things off with their take on punk-y garage rock. Singer/guitarist Matt Lamkin’s vocal-work is vaguely reminiscent of Stephen Malkmus’, sung atop lo-fi, loosely-played guitars and simplistic but driving drums. Songs like “Parasite” really show the band’s style, Matty McLoughlin laying down a grungy guitar solo over a persistent and just slightly detuned rhythmic drone from Lamkin’s own guitar. “Extinction” is a more overtly punk song, snare drum on two-and-four and lyrics about not owing anything to anyone, delivered with just a slight British twang. Ultimately, there isn’t too much to really distinguish The Soft Pack from the many other Pavement/Pixies-inspired Californian garage-y bands, but they’re cool enough to definitely pay attention to in the future if care enough to be able to stick it out and find a wider audience (which already seems to be happening; there were a number of fans present on this evening).

Though the set was short, it was hard not to leave the Paradise unsatisfied: Friendly Fires were the clear favorite of the night, but The Soft Pack and White Lies were just as enjoyable to see, even if they may not find as much lasting success as the headliner. Friendly Fires are the kind of band that is already ready to perform in larger venues. Their songs feature great songwriting ability, and the guys on stage are clearly having so much fun that it’s hard to not be won over quickly. They turned the ‘Dise into a raucous dance party, and, really, that probably means they had achieved their primary goal with this music.

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