It Happened Last Weekend: Noah and the Whale at Mercury Lounge

by |
09/23/2008 11:30 AM |

Before The L‘s Lauren Beck ran away to join Noah and the Whale on their current tour as Charlie Fink’s muse (Spencer Krug is still nursing his broken heart), she sent back the following dispatch.

Just last week, I wrote of the "wide-eyed delight" that British newcomers Noah and the Whale exude from every pore. The phrase "a preciousness that rivals Jens Lekman" may have also seen its way into print at some point, and, judging from the band’s show this past Friday at Mercury Lounge, I may have been wrong in my choice of descriptors. Turns out, the clan of anti-folksters — they of smiley Saturn commercials, blue-and-yellow color schemes and Wes Anderson adoration — knows how to throw a pretty somber affair. Scratch "wide-eyed delight."

With his ragged, wearied heart pinned to his sleeve, singer-songwriter
Charlie Fink is out to prove that there’s more to his band than funny
little YouTube videos
; he’s
taking music pretty seriously. Between ukulele-and-fiddle hoedowns,
handclaps and horns, it’s easy to bypass the underlying earnestness of Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, an album of mostly
upbeat songs about mostly sad stuff. But in a live setting, the band
simmered its instrumental swells and kept the handclaps/whistling a to
minimum, forcing the focus onto the heartbreaking lyrics ("If there’s
any love in me, don’t let it show/If there’s any love in me, don’t let
it grow). Here, the album took on a weight that was hard to shake. It
helped that Fink delivered each word in a clear-as-day baritone, his
stoic gaze rarely shifting from three-feet ahead of him, his eyes sad and
tired. At times, you could have heard a pin drop. With little sing-along
participation from the sold-out crowd (understandable; the album was
just released Tuesday), it sounded like he was sitting right next to
you, singing just to you.

Granted, the short set saw its share of gleeful moments, when Fink’s
steady, deliberate guitar plucks (no pick!) picked up steam and bassist
Urby Whale (that’s actually his name, I’m 98 percent sure) seemingly
convinced himself he was Flea and these baby-faced Brits sharing the
stage were the Chili Peppers. Hell, the ukulele-laden single ‘5 Years
Time’ was a full-out jam session, complete with exuberant horns and
Urby’s trademark yellow hat tipping back even further than usual. But
all in all, the show’s relative stillness and the band’s — or,
more accurately — Fink’s fragility came a bit unexpected…in
all the right ways.