Bobby Geldof, you said it right. I don't like Mondays, either. This particular Monday dragged, slow and painful, to the very end. I don't know if it's the weather changing over, the sun going down much quicker, or just the fact that it was a Monday, but all of my life force was sucked out before I walked into Chop Suey.
I dragged my lame, limp, lifeless body in as Portland's Weinland was early in their set. I expected the opener for Fanfarlo to be something a bit more twee, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out Weinland is much more textured, high and lonesome alt-country that refuses to stay in the typical alt-country confines. Sure, it still has that swing and swagger, and singer John Adam Weinland Shearer's voice does have a hell of a lot of Neil Young in it, but the band messes with their arrangements to make them just a bit spacier, a bit more atmospheric and maudlin, and then swoop in with some blown out rock moments. There were numerous moments that felt a little too polished, but just as soon as those had started, the band would add enough layers of lap steel, organ, or sweaty screaming atop it to make it exciting and adventurous again. The band seemed relaxed and legitimately excited to be a part of the Fanfarlo fanfare, and with that, had a good chunk of the crowd pretty wrapped up in their set (not an easy task on a Monday night).With the stage decorated with streamers, faux candle-lit luminaries, and giant bulbed string lighting, the first show of Fanfarlo's first US tour had the playful, intimate atmosphere of a small circus tent. Everything on stage was full of life, of warm red and gold tones, of simple, handmade beauty and possibility. It felt especially incredible at Chop Suey, where the stage is essentially a tiny box, and watching singer Simon Balthazar, drummer Amos Memon, and violinist/total secret weapon Cathy Lucas come on stage and play a stripped down version of "Drowning Men" set the tone of a night full of goosebumps.
When the rest of the band came on stage and started into the strands of "I'm A Pilot," someone flipped the switch on the string of lights lining the edges and back of the stage, and not only added to the warmth and glow coming from the stage, but gave the impression of watching a tiny band play inside a diorama. Having previously only played a few US shows (SXSW and some dates with Snow Patrol) and not really garnering as much blog hype as they seemingly deserve, it was really great to see Chop Suey comfortably full on a Monday night. My immediate impressions of the band are to mention things that come to mind when I hear them; singer Simon Balthazar's voice is a dead ringer at times for David Byrne, Beirut's Zach Condon, and a touch of Arcade Fire's Win Butler, and the band's arrangements bear a striking resemblance to Devotchka and Beirut.
Having the ability to look past the fact that pristine, precious pop has been done before helps to understand Fanfarlo. They aren't reinventing the wheel by any means, but are helping to perfect it, and as evidenced by every player that was on stage Monday night, they're doing a damn fine job of it. Violins, musical saws, melodicas, tamborines, trumpets, and clarinets all made appearances, and when all six members of Fanfarlo were singing, it was hard not to feel like you were standing outside of yourself, or at the very least, were part of something way bigger than yourself. It's hard not to sound like a sentimental sap when talking about the band, but between the outright living joy the band exudes on stage, the shy confidence the band shows in their songs and the slight nervous energy they had, Fanfarlo is pretty magical.
I sold on the band when they flipped the switch on those lovely, glowing lights after the first song of their set, but when they came back for an encore and handed out instruments to the crowd (no idea what they're called, but the band had purchased a gaggle of those plastic tubes you swing around your head to make noise), I became a devoted follower of the church of Fanfarlo. Ten or so audience members were whipping these tubes around in the air, and the pitch of the tubes was aligned perfectly with "Comets". Arms got tired, tubes were passed onto other audience members, and it felt like everyone in the room was part of the band.