Heartfelt Music at Mercury LoungeNovember 4th, 2009
Noah and the Whale – Mercury Lounge – November 3, 2009
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