Concert review: Roaming the indie seas with Freelance Whales and Geographer at the Firebird, Friday, October 26

Freelance Whales at the Firebird. Photo by Caroline Philippone.

Young people packed the Firebird to hear two much-hyped indie bands: Geographer and Freelance Whales.

Geographer, from San Francisco, opened with a set of synthesizer and drum-led songs. Michael Deni’s wistful-sweet lyrics conjured an ’80s, space vibe. Think Byrne in an astronaut suit, tinkering with gauges on a space ship, while serenading Earth over a drum-heavy, Kubrickian score.

“Verona,” from 2010′s “Animal Shapes,” featured multi-part layering, cello accents from Nathan Blaz and Brian Ostreicher’s well-miked and performed drums. “Night Winds” grew from a spare and contemplative beat to include cello and crashing guitar. Geographer closed with “Paris” from “Animal Shapes”; the audience cheered as Geographer rolled out the song’s intricate beat and silky synthesizer play.

After a set break, Freelance Whales took the stage, opening with “Aeolus,” the first cut off 2012′s “Diluvia.” The song twinkled beneath frontman Judah Dadone’s ornate lyrics. In call-and-response fashion, faraway vocals from the entire band slipped into the mix like phantoms. “Land Features,” was bombastic, with a celebratory chorus and a stuttering drum part by Jacob Hyman.

“Generator (Second Floor),” from 2009′s “Weathervanes,” found multi-instrumentalist Doris Cellar singing harmony and squeezing a harmonium, as multi-instrumentalist Chuck Criss thumped along on a bass. The audience applauded the popular song, happy it was performed early in the Freelance Whales’ set. “Ghosting,” sung by Cellar, was a nice reprieve, featuring a low-tempo vibe and sleepy lyrics.

With a dash of the New Pornographers, “Spitting Image” returned the energy to 10, complete with band-wide “Ooo’s, Ooo’s,” and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Read on glockenspiel. The Twitter-famous “Generator (First Floor)” drove the audience into a frenzy, the sound evolving from banjo and a stomping rhythm into a monosyllabic tapestry of vocal work. Parallel to the song’s spirit of waking and seizing the day, Dadone sang, “We get up early just to start cranking the generator…”

Throughout the entire evening, Freelance Whales maintained an impressive level of sonic-verisimilitude to their studio work. Few bands achieve such achingly beautiful versions of their recorded material when performing live.

“Red Star,” from “Diluvia,” gently rocked, like an eerie lullaby, while “Locked Out” had a taught, island quality emboldened by Hyman’s drumming. The song indulged in a crescendo that conjured “Yoshimi…”-era Flaming Lips. “Hannah” retained all its tasty prime-time-TV majesty, and caused the hardcore fans to swoon.

The band’s collective vocals again shone, with not one note out of place. One of my personal favorites, “Location,” stood tall with countrified strumming, thick synthesizer and Dadone attempting to sense the “location” of his love. After the Sting-styled “Dig Into Waves,” Freelance Whales closed with “Emergency Exit,” a heady ballad with rising and falling synthesizer and another huge full-band crescendo.

Freelance Whales encored with “Broken Horse,” “Starring” and “DNA Bank.” Each song trumped the one before, save “DNA Bank,” which rung out as a reprise of every sound Freelance Whales brought thorough out the evening.

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