Screw Jagger, I want the moves like Ed MacFarlane. The Friendly Fires frontman can certainly bust a groove; leaping, strutting and jiving around the Brixton Academy stage on Thursday night, MacFarlane’s unique style of ‘sexy-in-an-uncool-way’ bopping was as infectious as his band’s delicious and shiny melodies, bursting unfathomably loud around the Academy like a thick cloud of purple fog.
After their self-titled 2008 debut, Friendly Fires’ hitherto underground following began to poke its head above the surface and smell the coffee. Suddenly bigger venues were needed for the band, sporadic whispered mentions could be heard in the corridors of Radio 1, and their festival slots began to grow in stature. Then, in May of this year, came the triumphant follow-up, Pala, and suddenly the band blew up. Such is the band’s appeal now that they can sell out three consecutive nights at Brixton Academy, a mere stone’s throw away from the next step of sell-out arenas and Wembley Stadium dates.
In Thursday night’s show, the first of these three Brixton nights, the boys were electric. Surging from hit to mighty hit with contagious energy and passion, Friendly Fires more than justified the immense hype surrounding them at the moment. Although often listed in the same breath as bands like Klaxons, The Wombats, Ou Est Le Swimming Pool and Does It Offend You, Yeah?, the St. Albans outfit are actually quite a different beast to these pop-punk peers. The difference lies in the bass and the percussion; there’s a funkier edge to Friendly Fires than there is to other dance-punk acts at the moment. Listen to the shantytown samba-madness of Jack Savidge’s drumming on early single ‘Jump In The Pool’, or the rollocking and pounding kickdrums on recent track ‘Hawaiian Air’. Both had the audience dancing in seizures on Thursday night, and it’s this edge of bass- and drum-driven funkiness that gives Friendly Fires such appeal.
Pleasingly, the band played just as many tracks from their first album as they did from Pala. ‘Skeleton Boy’, ‘On Board’, ‘In The Hospital’ and ‘Paris’ all got a good run-out, whilst Pala stormers such as ‘Blue Cassette’ and ‘Hurting’ were also included. Supported by a brass section and an additional bassist, the boys bounced and grooved and leapt around, whilst MacFarlane strutted and shook across the stage like he had ants in his pants. The sheer energy and sense of activity on-stage was palpable and infectious, and made for one of the best atmospheres I’ve seen at the sometimes cavernous Brixton Academy in years.
Closing with a double-encore of ‘Hawaiian Air’ and ‘Kiss Of Life’, the band finally ended their kinetic dance moves and shut off their inventive and engaging graphics to take a quick bow and bound off-stage, clearly high off an exceptional performance. As the punters spilled out onto the streets of London on a cold November night, the energy was still buzzing, passing through the crowd, residual tingles and jolts sizzling across lips and bodies. When the entire carriage on my northbound Victoria line train started chanting ‘Hawaiian Air’, I knew I’d witnessed a special gig.