Last Night: Friendly Fires at The Glass House with The Phenomenal Handclap Band.
Better Than: An aerobics lesson with Richard Simmons.
Download: "Jump in the Pool" (Thin White Duke Remix) by Friendly Fires.
Nearing the end of an hour-long set drenched in sweat, synths and hip-tastic dance moves, Friendly Fires front man Ed Macfarlane pointed his boyishly perplexed stare at room full of fans at The Glass House. Besides the fact that he and his band had just squeezed the last drop of sound from their self-titled debut album (and the fact that he pretty much always has that look on his face), Macfarlane was genuinely surprised by FF's Pomona fan base. Offering up an electric whirlwind of New New Wave (is that officially a genre now?), this fresh faced four piece from the U.K. showed us that dancing like a sinner on Sunday night can be quite the spiritual cleanser.
Last night, FF's energy shot through the rafters and down to the floor full of show-goers who piled up early to grab a good spot up front. Those who did were definitely not disappointed as MacFarlane, drummer Jack Savidge, guitarist Edd Gibson and bassist Rob Lee attacked every tightly spun tune with reckless abandon. Though the show ended up in the 80s, it started with a disco-induced shot of the 70s courtesy of an eight piece tribe called The Phenomenal Handclap Band.
Though sticking the word "phenomenal" in your own band name might be setting the bar a little too high, the crowd that assembled at the foot of the stage seemed willing to give them a chance. The band promptly exploded into a technicolor burst of syncopated drums, keyboard riffage and tambourines (yes, there were A LOT of tambourines). Though the grooves were infectious, TPHB were so saturated in Saturday Night Fever that at certain points it seemed they were trying to hypnotize us into believing that Jimmy Carter was still president, gas was less than 40 cents a gallon and that a little cocaine on the balcony is always A-OK.
Spearheaded by the stoic presence of lead synth player/vocalist Daniel Collas, the group's two step rhythms were lively, though none of them seemed overly excited to be there. I'm sure being back home in New York would be wayyyy cooler. Ultizing the vocals of nearly every one in the band gave a needed boost to jams like "All of the Above" starring the soulful vocals of guitarist Ben Ji Ling (whose also looked a bit like a lost member of ELO with his long hair, all white get up, thick mustache and vintage glasses).
Flanked on either side by sensual female vocalists Laura Marin and Joan Tick, the band carried on with a bit of Blondie-meets-School House Rock with their song "15 to 20". Tick also showed a lot of sultry vocal promise on the slow, creeping tones "Testimony". Though the "phenominal" inserted in the band's name is still questionable, they ended on a high note with the evangalized chorus of "I Been Born Again" which offered a surprise spark of energy and, dare we say, actual handclapping.
But the real handclapping started once Friendly Fires trotted on stage and took their places. At first glance, the band's set up, primarily crowded on stage left, looks a bit awkward. That's until Macfarlane starts moving. Immediately you realize their logic: this motherfucker needs room to bust a move. Diving head first into the song "Jump in the Pool", FF showed off their prowess for percussion and frantic stage presence that started with Macfarlane channeling John Travolta and Napoleon Dynamite in every motion. As Savidge, Gibson and Lee wreaked havoc on their respective instruments the band charged forward backed by additional background trumpet and saxophones by two middle aged dudes old enough to be the fathers of everyone else on stage (they kicked ass though).
Of course, the band received an glorious uproar for their radio hit "Skeleton Boy" executed to a "T" with Macfarlane teetering over his keyboard/sampler set up, sweating to the chorus and singing his heart out. By the time the band reached the middle of the set, which included tracks like "In the Hospital", "White Diamonds" and "Photobooth" FF's fans had caught the dancing bug themselves, some grooving modestly in place while others flailed and screamed like they were on a roller coaster. Their biggest reaction came during "Paris", and "On Board" and their latest single "Kiss of Life" the band's last songs before the encore. From the darkness, the crowd roared the opening lines "One day we're Gonna Live in Paris...I Promise, I'm on it!".
Seemingly captivated by all the love they were receiving, the band made a gracious exit only to return momentarily for their one song encore performance of "Ex-Lover" Usually, one song isn't exactly what you would call an "encore", more like a tease. But as the band started in with Macfarlane on bass and Lee banging on percussion, they proved that one was enough. Using their last gasps of energy, the band hollered out the chorus line "You're all I need!" with the passion of a true ex-lover. But after that performance and all the support they received, this could be a start to Friendly Fires' beautiful relationship with P-town.
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Personal Bias: Any band that makes you sweaty just watching them is okay in my book.
Random Detail: Anyone notice how much pampering the guys in FF were getting from their stage tech? I mean bringing towels on stage, slipping Savidge's headphones on for him after coming back to the drums, hot massages in the green room (that last one was a lie, although I wouldn't be surprised).
By the Way: If you can see them tonight at the El Rey in LA...you should.