When: 17 April 2014
Where: Lee’s Palace, Toronto
In One Word: Inspiring
“Well there is this lake. And it’s under kilometres of ice. Thought we needed to write about it before humans get down there. It goes like this…. ” spoke Simon Balthazar, the frontman and singer of London, UK based band Fanfarlo midway through their set at Lee’s Palace.
That’s a bit different. Fanfarlo are a bit different. The band recently released their second full-length album-Let’s Go Extinct-in February. The album explores themes of evolution, nature and the self-destruction of mankind. It is refreshing for a band in 2014 to be tackling meaningful and vital topics in their songs. The subjects of their songs are heavy — Vostok, for example, is a song about an island in Antarctica, the last unspoilt wilderness on earth, which is in danger of falling victim to mankind when an international treaty protecting against mining and drilling ends in 2041. The messages in Fanfarlo’s songs are heavy but delivered with a gentle touch: softly-sung vocals hang over soundscapes built by keyboards, violin, a saw, guitar, trumpets, and occasionally a saxophone.
The introduction to their song “Vostok, I Know You Are Waiting”, was one of the few moments where Fanfarlo made early shy, hesitant stabs at engaging with their audience. In another moment Balthazar had clumsily knocked over a saxophone after a rare foray to the edge of the stage – a foray that was greeted with warm, encouraging cheers. Fanfarlo are like a physical representation of the topics of climate change or evolution, brought to life: a little unsure of themselves at first, but ultimately they have the truth on their side, and with a little support they start to deliver their message with a buoyant confidence.
As subdued as they seemed at first, Fanfarlo got into a stride when they realised that every person in the venue was pulling for them. Often Balthazar is singing on his own, backed by his band, but the songs where choruses where backed and sung in harmony buoyed both the band and their crowd. “Bones” was one of these songs with a spirited chorus, and when the trumpet and violin built to an emphatic climax, it was quite serene. Further serenity was found with “Comets”, which featured the band’s female band member Cathy Lucas playing the saw (she also plays violin and the keyboard), and ended with a trumpet call from Leon Beckenham. I really like the trumpet in Fanfarlo’s songs. I like their uptempo, and more danceable songs even more so: “Landlocked” is very cool, especially the middle break, and got some bodies dancing.
This is a band that requires some patience and thoughtful listening to appreciate. You need to give them a chance. I only found out about Fanfarlo 48 hours before this show, and quickly gained respect and excitement for what they are doing with their music. I’m currently planning a new project promoting the conservation and enjoyment of the environment through music [#HomegrownSound – coming soon], so it was some kind of fate that drew me to Lee’s Palace to see Fanfarlo. I left inspired by the ethos and messages of the band, and even more so by their engaged and happy audience. Thanks for the dancey numbers too, Fanfarlo.
After a triumphant final few songs which included a saxophone refrain at the edge of the stage by Balthazar, and another endearingly awkward moments with a false start to a song, Fanfarlo ended their set with “Harold T. Wilkins”. Their goodnights were genuine, but a happy Lee’s Palace crowd demanded one more song and the band returned to the stage. Fanfarlo played out with “Let’s Go Extinct” and rousing “The Walls Are Coming Down” — ending, with a trumpet salute.
Every call to arms need a trumpet call, and Fanfarlo have them in abundance.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice