Friendly Fires Surprise and Thrill

December 7th, 2009

Friendly Fires – Webster Hall – December 5, 2009

(Photo: Catherine Losing)

(Photo: Catherine Losing)

I will cop to the following assumptions about Saturday’s Friendly Fires show at Webster Hall: 1. It would not sell out. 2. Friendly Fires would be great but people wouldn’t get it. 3. I would struggle with a show that, truthfully, wasn’t great. I thought these things just before 8 p.m. But by 10:30, those thoughts had been destroyed, exploded and rebuilt in a new image like a forgotten sports arena and its new, improved replacement.

Webster Hall was packed the way it gets when everyone who’d bought tickets actually shows up and wants to be close to the stage. Not every band creates this buzz—the sense that something incredible might happen. Just two hours before the show, I discussed my theory that nothing exciting happens in big venues because of their size and sterility. But then the energy in the room was almost suffocating. So I edit: Nothing exciting happens in big venues until it does. And then, bluntly: It is on.

Friendly Fires crushed the crowd from the outset. Opening with “Lovesick” and playing “Skeleton Boy” third, it was clear they would hold nothing back. Lead singer Ed McFarlane, a shivering, shaking explosion of energy never let up, imploring us to “Dance, people.” The set’s second half threw the pedal to the floor, rolling through “Photobooth” and “On Board” (maybe the most frenetic moment of the night) and closing with the anthemic “Paris.” The band received a well-earned slow-clap encore and returned to play “Ex Lover.” The “You’re all I need” chorus echoed through the hall and I realized I had been more than wrong. The band was a monolith of sound proving that when the walls and floor shake, it means you’re being broken down only to be rebuilt. —Geoff Nelson