“Down with the old; up with the new”. This seems to be a motto in today’s music scene. Every now and then, we’ve witnessed how instruments that require actual talent and dedication have been replaced by drum machines, live musicians have lost presence for the sake of prerecorded tracks and singing is losing a battle against Autotune. For some, music (or what music used to be about) is slowly becoming colder and transforming itself into a fashion rather than a way of living.
Party anthems, partial nudity, acting ridiculous and recycling 80’s hits have taken over the venues once filled with legendary bands and musicians who could actually play an instrument. Thankfully, some artists are embracing the old, rather than putting it down, and are coming up with new ways to inject a lot of life to it. Some of those artists are Charlie Fink, Michael Petulla, Matt Owens, Tom Hobden and Fred Abbott; better known as Noah & The Whale, a 5 year old English band who managed to mix the old ways of folk music with contemporary beats and beautiful lyrics.Noah And The Whale – Tonight’s The Kind Of Night by 247QM
Celebrating their fifth anniversary, the website sopitas.com spent weeks creating contests and giving away tickets to a free concert with Noah & The Whale as the main act. From taking pictures of yourself working on supposed no-labor days, to making donations for charities against AIDS and sending a sexy photograph of good looking cleavage (if you were a girl or lucky enough to have a girlfriend willing to help you out instead of kicking you in the nuts): everyone had a chance to participate and try to get a ticket.
The Sopifiesta took place at El Plaza Condesa, a once well-known movie theatre built in 1952, which now remodeled as a concert and spectacle venue with a capacity for 1,600 people. And those 1,600 people had really great stories about how they got their own tickets, so you could sense some kind of camaraderie: like this concert was some kind of private club, where only the ones willing to attempt something out of their comfort zone were able to attend.
It felt like a special night.
The party began with Yellow Yesterday as the opening act. A barely one year old Mexican band who already had a slot on this year’s Corona Capital Fest, sharing the stage with Wild Beasts and Portishead. Their line-up has changed ever since: now they are bigger in number, sound and delivery. Still mixing mandolin and synthesizer with the basic guitar-bass-drums instrumentation, Yellow Yesterday played tunes from their self-titled EP like Mi Papel, Choices. And with their superb take on Ritchie Valens’ Come On, Let’s Go!, everyone started dancing as the night kept growing older.
Then, as the lights went off for the second time, five suited up men entered the stage. It seemed like a scene from a bluegrass show back in the day. Suddenly, the lights went red and the crowd turned wild, as Give A Little Love began to take over El Plaza Condesa. Along came masterpieces with a great sounding guitar-bass-drums-piano-violin combo, sometimes with a touch of synthesizers in the middle. Going through tunes from their early Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down (such as Shape Of My Heart, 5 Years Time or Rocks And Daggers); their second album ‘the First Days Of Spring’ (like Our Window and Love Of An Orchestra) and obviously promotional songs from their last effort ‘Last Night On Earth’.
The impressive fact about Noah & The Whale and their live performances is the way they transform their songs in order to be reproduced by just 5 people on stage. In their albums, the presence of brass instruments, female vocals and massive choruses is audible in many songs. But as they play live, they exchange all of it with touching violin fills courtesy of Tom Hobden and electric guitar adornments by Fred Abbott. While Matt Owens comes and goes across the stage, dancing and playing bass like they were playing hard rock anthems; the same goes to Michael Petulla on the drums. Meanwhile, Charlie Fink plays the Master of Ceremonies part in a perfectly balanced way: greeting everyone, dancing and inciting everyone into joining the fun. And we all did it the best way possible: the massive choruses are replaced by the accompaniment of the crowd in tunes like Tonight’s The Kind Of Night. And frankly: the interaction of the public as an unofficial sixth member is the perfect backup singer any night.
In their early years, Noah And The Whale provided songs full of emotional lyrics about love, the lack of identity and longing, surrounded by peaceful rhythms and natural instrumentation. As the band continues to evolve, more danceable and happier songs are taking presence in their set lists. It’s easy to sense an emerging happiness and joy on their last album, the kind of joy only true artists aware of their success are able to put down in music and pass on some of that joy to others. And Charlie, Michael, Matt, Tom and Fred did it more than once on that Saturday night, when you felt anything could change and anything could happen.
After 18 songs full of memorable examples of fine modern folk rock and a colorful paper rain, the five you men from Twickenham, London said goodbye to their last audience of 2011. And to continue the anniversary celebration, a rock dj and memorable moments went by until the early hours of Sunday. Friends were met for the first time, people had fun and another band from across the Atlantic won a place in México’s heart. Smiling, tired and visibly sad for the closure of a year in which they got to step on venues away from home, Noah & The Whale achieved to end to a high note, and it sounded perfect for anyone with a broken heart.
Written by Jorge A. López Mendicuti
Guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, law school graduate, amateur writer and music fan