Noah and the Whale's debut album, "Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down," was released just over five years ago, while its fourth, "Heart of Nowhere," arrived just last month. That's a goodly amount of music in a relatively short period of time, and the band's appearance at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday was a well-played retrospective of its entire catalog.
It was actually the debut album that got the most on-stage love, with seven of its songs featured in an 18-track set (see the full set list), not counting an impromptu, one verse rendition of "Wild Child" (from 2011's "Last Night on Earth") that singer/songwriter/guitarist Charlie Fink attempted after a shouted fan request.
While "Peaceful..." is certainly worth revisiting - after all, "5 Years Time" ("and we'll have sun, sun, sun...") was the tune that brought the band to international attention - it's a somewhat surprising choice in that it was an album shot through with female vocals, which were not present on this night.
In fact, after Laura Marling left the band just before the release of that album (and maybe broke Fink's heart a little), Noah and the Whale's moved on from its more traditional (pre-Mumford) sound. If Fink was looking to show that "Peaceful..."'s tunes are still relevant, even in new arrangements, he did so handily. He and his four male mates - a standard rock set-up with the addition of an MVP on red hot violin - brought all the songs home, whatever their origin.
Throughout the night, Fink MC'd the show with the easy charm of a seasoned chat show host, apologizing for a slightly delayed start time (the band was stranded without a bus driver for a night), jokingly taking credit for the end of the government shutdown (which had happened that night) and asking the crowd what sights around town were worth visiting after the show. ("The Smithsonian? Tonight? Do we break in like that 'Night at the Museum' movie?")
He also mentioned, just before starting "2 Atoms In a Molecule" (another "Peaceful..." track) that someone had asked for it in Portland and that the band were relearning a lot of older songs that fans were requesting. So, along with well-known tracks like "L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N." (a fairly silly studio track that sounded better live), "Blue Skies," and "Tonight's the Kind of Night" (the opening tune, natch), there were deeper cuts, too, like "Old Joy," in which the audience was turned into a "gospel choir," and the delightful "Love of an Orchestra."
That last tune came about in the second half of the show, shortly after Fink announced that we were entering "the rock and roll portion of the show," a welcome statement that came just as one was wondering whether Noah and the Whale's sweet, folk-tuned British song-smithing might get a bit samey in the course of 90 minutes.
Revving up the tempos, presenting a "guitar shoot-out" on "Still After All These Years," and removing his suit jacket to get as funky as a guy can be when his slight frame and curly hair make him look like a teenage boy, Fink led the band into a more raucous performance in the show's last forty minutes or so than the albums might forecast.
After bringing the crowd to a happy frenzy with the last song of the official set, the aforementioned "5 Years Time," the band played an encore of perhaps Noah and the Whale's saddest song. The title track of 2009's "First Days of Spring" is a bittersweet beauty and Fink and company gave it an impassioned reading that sent the crowd out smiling.
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