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Monday, 25 April 2011 11:57

Concert review: Foals and Freelance Whales get up close and personal at the Firebird, Saturday, April 23

Concert review: Foals and Freelance Whales get up close and personal at the Firebird, Saturday, April 23 Meghan McGlynn
Written by Meghan McGlynn

Truth be told, I went to the Firebird last night to see Freelance Whales, and not the headliner, Foals. What can I say? I like Foals, but I'm a sucker for a banjo. But getting down and dirty with Foals changed everything for me. The whole night rocked.

The Whales, a band from Queens, N.Y. mesmerized a packed venue -- many of whom were likewise there to see just them -- swapping turns on the glockenspiel while harmonizing vocals and toe-tapping through the standard indie-rock footwork.

Yes, their songs are featured on Starbucks ads and TV shows, and yes they default to the standard indie-rock wear (too-tight jeans, ironic vintage schoolmarm trousers, plaid, plaid, plaid), but the music does not lack integrity. The blend of synthesized electronics with various folk percussion instruments creates a vibrant energy live that is only hinted at in the commercial context.

Overall, the Whales are more than the sum of their parts. Weathervanes ostensibly is the product of the band members' "dream journals" and "works to tell a simple, pre-adolescent love story: A young male falls in love with the spectral young femme who haunts his childhood home. He chases her in his dreams but finds her to be mostly elusive. He imagines her alive and wonders if someday he'll take on her responsibilities of ghosting, or if maybe he'll join her, elsewhere" ... right. Well. Don't let their TV spots or this talk of "ghosting" dissuade you from loving the Whales. So they tend toward the clichéd; it's only on the surface, I assure you.

The sounds are hauntingly lovely and rife with possibility, and the Whales are definitely something greater than the ordinary indie rock band just emerging from mom's garage. Dream log weirdness aside, the band members are accessible and friendly -- just listen to their lyrics ("I am convinced / that we could be friends," "since you are my friend") -- so nice! In fact, after their nine-song set, the Whales hung around for the rest of the show and chatted with fans (I even had a pleasant encounter with Nicole aka Doris in the restroom). I may not share your love of ghost stories, but I'm all over your music, and yes, we could indeed be friends the next time you're in STL.

Nicole of Freelance Whales

Freelance Whales setlist:

Generator ˆ First Floor
We Could Be Friends
Generator ˆ Second Floor

How this humble, ethereal NY band came to be the opener for Foals, a UK-based indie-techno band exploding all over the top of the British charts, however, is not evident. (And as an aside, if "indie rock" encompasses these two very different bands, then our descriptive dictionary needs to keep up with the times and, well, do a better job describing them.) While Foals' self-described sound of "like the dream of an eagle dying" smacks a bit of the Whales' "dream logging," the similarities between the two bands beyond that are few. Both Foals and Freelance Whales feature synthesizers, but the Whales' keyboards underlie a folky, geeky, at-most head-nodding sound, while Foals' synthesizers serve as the backbone to a loud, funky, completely dance-worthy, techno-pop full-on body slam.

With Foals, there is no stationary head nodding or even ironic toe tapping; on the contrary, Foals invoke the most frenetic physical maneuvering, a solid 90 minutes of which results in a steamy sweat bath of free love and awesomeness. Massive.

Foals at Firebird

As with the Whales, Foals are best live. Total Life Forever is good; it delivers a steady beat and works for the morning commute or 30 minutes on the treadmill. Live, however, that hint of mid-'90s college rock à la the Samples dissipates and instead the funk erupts. Three-minute tunes were stretched out with long instrumental interludes punctuated with vigorous drum pounding, and guitars that might skew frat-boy when transmitted through your iPod transformed into screeching feedback of the highest and most authentic rock value. Bloody awesome.

I would wager for the entirety of the audience members, whether in attendance for the Whales or Foals, we all got more than our 15 bucks' worth. One of these bands alone is worth that much, so well done, Firebird, for organizing such an awesome event (I met the Firebird owner, actually, and he credited the booking to the fact that he's got a really good relationship with the Foals' manager).

Given that the next time we catch these bands in STL it's likely to be far less intimate ("the future is not what it used to be" -- we all remember when the now Scottrade Center-worthy National used to play the Duck Room), and whether this is good or bad, much less sweaty ("Oh hell, we set it on fire / Heart swells, which make us explode / We set it on fire / We set it on fire / We set it on fire" -- Mr. Firebird assured me a new AC is being installed mid-May), I want to mark this moment when Foals and the Freelance Whales rocked out with us so up-close and personal in the Midwest (not Kansas City, mind you, Judah, but St. Louis).

Yannis of Foals at Firebird

Yes indeed, venue notwithstanding, these bands were awesome we will welcome you back -- "You showed me / Where to go / To my home. . . / So take me / Through the roads / That you know / To my home." Smashing!

Foals setlist:

Blue Blood
Olympic Airways
Total Life Forever
After Glow
Black Gold
Spanish Sahara
Red Sox Pugie
Electric Bloom
The French Open
Two Steps, Twice

All photos by Meghan McGlynn.

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