I should probably preface this review by noting that I did, in fact, see the button on bassist Justin Finch’s coat that read: “To hell with the critics.” Fair enough, but I feel the need to point out that feedback isn’t always a bad thing – it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses. More important, still, is the ability to play them up or improve upon them, respectively. Nevertheless, if the button’s any indication… I can rest easy with the knowledge they won’t be reading this review. Even if it is very positive.
Stopping by Toronto in support of their third album (February’s Let’s Go Extinct,) it was a surprise to see that the London-based five-piece weren’t able to draw more of a crowd to Lee’s Palace. Pass it off for a Wednesday night show or owe it to their long departure – they last played at The Mod Club in 2012 – but there was certainly plenty of space in the venue. A shame, given Fanfarlo unequivocally deserve a larger crowd.
Maybe they just haven’t found an audience yet, though. Truthfully, I belong in that camp of unfamiliarity, walking in with absolutely no expectations of the band or their show. While Fanfarlo’s been a name I’ve heard in passing, for whatever reason they’ve never been something I’ve investigated. It turns out this was a mistake on my part and apparently a mistake for a lot of people who have yet to give them a proper listen.
Guitarist and vocalist Simon Balthazar is a comfortable indie rock front man. His banter was approachable, his stage presence was endearing, and he has a strong, easily likable voice that pulled together all the other elements of the quintet’s upbeat pop. Live horns also helped with Balthazar jumping on saxophone and multi-instrumentalist Leon Beckenham frequently highlighting numbers with his trumpet. Because if you didn’t already know this: well-performed live horns instantly make any band much, much better.
Many of the night’s highlights came from their 2009 debut, Reservoir. They included the drum and violin led “I’m A Pilot”; the upbeat “Luna” with its melancholic trumpet ending; and the slow-starting “Comets,” which saw Cathy Lucas play a musical saw. Unfortunately a loud group in the audience put a damper on some of the quieter moments, but when the horns and drums kicked in and things picked up, everyone in the room paid attention.
There were some minor technical glitches in the set (see: an improperly plugged-in bass cable, an accidentally knocked over instrument, and a malfunctioning synth,) but they were handled with humour and with the deft hands of a band that’s used to fixing things on the fly. Case in point, Balthazar explained about accidentally splitting his acoustic guitar earlier in the tour and having to tape it together with pages from a vintage diary. If that’s not the definition of twee, I’m not sure what is.
“Tunguska,” off of 2012’s Rooms Filled With Light was a fan favourite, while Let’s Go Extinct’s tropical, dance floor friendly “Landlocked” also found favour amongst the shimmying bodies thanks to Valentina Magaletti’s efforts on drums.
“A Distance,” another new one, suffered a false start due to one of the aforementioned technical problem. Thankfully the band laughed it off with a joke, picked it back up, and delivered a final saxophone finish that would have you imaging Jon Hamm bursting through a wall yelling “Sergio!” (Please also note that SNL skit is well worth a YouTube/Google.)
Fanfarlo finished their set with the hugely climactic “Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for a Very Long Time,” cementing their instrumental strength with particular attention on the Finch and his bass. The band soon returned for an encore, Balthazar telling the crowd: “This is the best gig we’ve done for a long time.”
To mirror their own, parting words: hopefully it’s not another two years before Toronto sees Fanfarlo again. And hopefully next time more people realize they’re a band well worth seeing live. As it turns out, they’re well worth an investigation and space on your iPod.
Thanks to Live Nation Ontario for media access.