Published Dec 03, 2009Aside from buzz, the XX and Friendly Fires have little in common. The former became a quick-hit phenomenon on the strength of a minimalist pop gem while the latter came to prominence via one of the most infectious and danceable records in recent memory. Regardless of musical dissimilarity, the two outfits Voltron-ed into a hugely engaging double bill.
Both combos cruised into Toronto on a flotilla of hype, filling the Phoenix despite the torrential downpour. Sonorous and joyful, Friendly Fires craft songs that inspire all-in dance parties. And now, they have a two-piece horn section.
Tracks like "Paris," "Jump in the Pool" and "On Board" have an inherent dance-ability, and live, the band fully capitalized on them. Singer Ed Macfarlane, with his elastic body and vaulting voice, was a well-cast ringleader, starting the party with a strong work ethic and vocal pleas.
Running a strange gamut of influences, from Madness to Talking Heads, Friendly Fires blazed through their relatively short headlining set. Highlighted by drummer Jack Savidge's muscular time-keeping, the act kept things buoyant and bouncy throughout. It was a jubilant if not particularly sophisticated show and, though it delivered what the masses wanted (aka a sweaty soiree), it lacked the opening act's enchanting nuances.
Hinging on sparse but thoroughly conceptualized arrangements, each selection from the XX seamlessly blended its constituent parts. The London three-piece recently lost a keyboardist, resulting in an even more minimalist sound, but in a good way. The utilitarian band wasted neither riff nor beat.
An unassuming pop appetizer, replete with Gregorian vocal accompaniment, "Intro" started things off auspiciously. "Basic Space" transposed a Pinback-style rhythm on a trip-hop aesthetic. "VCR" merged boy/girl vocals to captivating effect. And closer, "Infinity" was a gloomy masterpiece that drew feverish applauds.
On distinct terms, the XX and Friendly Fires provided an arresting and disparate two-part evening, all in just over two moist hours.