Photos courtesy of Lauren Glucksman | www.getglucky.com
It’s hard to say what this crowd came to see. Charlie Fink, lead singer of Noah and the Whale, sort of shuffled to the stage with his five-piece band fully intent on playing large swatches of their new album, First Rites of Spring, ostensibly a love note and a gigantic fuck you to Fink’s ex-girlfriend and former bandmate, Laura Marling. The record is a gut-wrenching exegesis on breaking up, and Fink is more than intent to play it the way a mechanic can stare into the bowels of your car and tell you, quite simply, your engine doesn’t work. Except that it’s Fink who is broken, which is exactly what the crowd has shown up to see. The band opened with “Blue Skies,” arguably the most uplifting of Fink’s tragic masterwork. Of course, this would be like saying The Old Guitarist was the most uplifting painting of Picasso’s Blue Period.
There are aspects of schadenfreude at work here. You couldn’t say Fink looked sickly or drunk or morose or any of the other signifiers that usually typify modern human breakups, and yet the music told a different story. Playing “Our Window,” which vividly describes the night of their separation, Fink was either completely satisfied with his documentation of this event or he’s still actively hurt by it. Either way, we’ve all stopped to watch his emotional car accident, beautifully scored as it may be. What’s that say about us, members of the nearly sold-out crowd, who came to witness this? Were we hoping to be healed in this fire? As the band ripped through the end of “First Rites of Spring,” you felt Fink connect for the first time with this catharsis we’ve come to be a part of. It was the last song of their main set and then they moved into “Shape of My Heart,” from their first album. It had a different tone but given the circumstances, whatever the shape of Fink’s heart, it was almost certainly still broken. —Geoff Nelson
Noah and the Whale are about to pull off one of the greatest reversals ever to come out of the London folk scene. Their first record, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, was full of rabid optimism, meditations on love and maybe a hint of darkness, but it was largely covered in the whistles, chimes and ebullience of the much-licensed “5 Years Time.” It was so sweet it stuck to the roof of your mouth. Of course, that was while lead singer Charlie Fink and bandmate Laura Marling were dating and he still believed in the world.
After they broke up last year, Fink sat down to write his Sea Change, a break-up record to live as a breathing, singing, moaning epitaph to the burning of a communal civilization. A musical document to say, “Laura, you ruined my life, you fucking bitch (slash) I still care about you.” Eventually titled First Rites of Spring, the results of Fink’s anguish are as beautiful as they are hard to get through. Strings wail and disinterested guitars meander through rich orchestration as Fink digs into his personal trauma, equal parts composer, coroner and healer. It will make you think of every person who broke your heart. It will make you think of a boat built for two, either sunk or now just big enough for one. Laura, this isn’t your fault, but it begs the classic Nick Hornby question: Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? In this case, it is exactly both. —Geoff Nelson