Review: Noah and the Whale, HMV Picture House

From left, Matt Owens, Fred Abbott, Charlie Fink, and Tom Hobden
From left, Matt Owens, Fred Abbott, Charlie Fink, and Tom Hobden
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A FOLK gig is one of the last places you’d expect to find female fans screaming deliriously, but then not every folk band is Noah and the Whale.

****

They’re certainly a dapper set of gents, not an Aran Jumper in sight, each bedecked instead in sharp vintage-cut suits and ties. Even the roadies get in on the act, one sporting a rather natty bowler hat.

To be fair, describing them as folk is also a bit of a misnomer too, particularly in their current guise. Since emerging as part of the British nu-folk scene along with the likes of Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, the Twickenham quartet has increasingly cultivated a more radio-friendly sound. That development’s noticeable at tonight’s gig; if you knew of this progression without being familiar with their work, you could probably still identify which of their three albums each song comes from.

Tunes from the group’s 2008 debut, like Shape of My Heart, are both winsome and twee. Breakthrough hit, Five Years Time, gets a lusty reception from the capacity crowd, but lacks the charm of the original without the female backing vocals.

Inspired by frontman Charlie Fink’s break-up with girlfriend (and ex-bandmate) Laura Marling, tracks from sophomore record The First Days Of Spring are unsurprisingly raw and navel-gazing. Blue Skies, for instance, is subdued yet achingly touching.

And then there’s 2011’s Top Ten hit Last Night On Earth. Fink has previously cited The Boss as a big influence, something that’s acutely clear on a couple of efforts that get an airing here. Slow-paced and reflective, Wild Thing contains some Springsteen-esque chord sequences, while you could easily imagine the E Street Band belting out the terrifically triumphant Tonight’s The Kind Of Night, which packs much more punch live than it does on the album.

In fact, there’s a host of discernible influences on show, from LCD Soundsystem and The Killers on Give It All Back to the “Lou Reed sings Tom Petty” feel of lead single L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. That’s no criticism though – if they’ve gone “mainstream”, then they’ve made a pretty good job of it.