Tripping the L.I.F.E Fantastic
Noah and the Whale
Stanley Theatre, Liverpool
Monday May 9, 2011
My oh my, Noah and the Whale have got some devoted - and fresh-faced - young fans. The front row all look like they're out way past their bedtime, and naturally, are full of the joys of the end of teaching before the hard graft of exams commences.
There's a slight sense of impatience in the air, and the band are instantly rewarded with a frenzied reception usually reserved for globally renowned popstars like Lady Gaga they receive as they arrive onstage. My guest even comments on how "incredibly photogenic" the band are. They look like they're enjoying themselves as much as the crowd when they come onstage and they've not even played a note yet.
If the London-based outfit weren't so damn charming, it would be easy to become jealous of their live prowess. They have cut themselves adrift from the mildly twee acoustic sounds of their debut Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down and taken a more populist approach on their current longplayer Last Night On Earth. They open with one of the best songs from the first album, Give A Little Love, and it demonstrates that whatever musical treatment those tracks are given, they have a timeless appeal purely because they're damn good songs (don't forget, this is a band who once covered Black Cab by Jens Lekman in a breakneck garage rock stylie).
It's actually the songs from their earlier albums that sound best tonight. Jocasta brings the house down as somebody from those fresh-faced front few rows flings a pair of black knickers towards the stage. Love of an Orchestra, from the band's second album, is no less powerful despite the loss of its spine-tingling choral opening, and the stoic Blue Skies is simply gorgeous.
About two-thirds of the way into a set which has already included most of the third album (notably, a raucous version of Just Me Before We Met with Tom Hobden on fine fiddle-thrashing form), Charlie Fink proclaims the official start of a "party" section with Rocks and Daggers. Its hoedown sensibilities get toes tapping and grins on faces. Shape of My Heart and Five Years' Time - the latter's distinctive whistling replaced by a more grown-up electric guitar hook - provoke an outbreak of dancing even way back at the bar. Tonight's the Kind of Night, with its DAB radio-friendly major key piano riff, sits with these first album highlights as an equal, which further demonstrates how skilfully the band have updated the sound of their earlier fare.
The First Days of Spring, closing the main set, packs the greatest emotional punch this evening. Even those who've been nattering all the way through the set at the back finally stop talking and pay attention as Fink's resonant voice glides over hopeful yet slightly desperate words, with a suitably dramatic backing. The party feel of L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N jars in the encore as a result, but it's a necessary coda to send us home with a spring in our step.
words and pictures: Kate Goodacre