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Expectations aren’t especially high tonight, I’m not overly inspired by the recordings of Noah and the Whale, although advised the live experience may just surprise me. The band, who once retained the fragrant Laura Marling within their ranks, released a third album of dark, whimsical Nu-Folk, “Last Night on Earth” earlier this year, working their way from smaller beginnings over the last five years, to current tour throughout October, taking in the larger Academy and similar capacity venues around the U.K before jetting off to the U.S.A in early November.

Arriving at The Manchester Academy, to a thronging, if not totally sold out venue, the support has already taken the stage. Although Toronto’s Bahamas usually includes just solo artist Afie Jurvanen, tonight he utilises an unusual line-up, with drums and two female backing singers supporting his guitar and vocal. Jurvanen announces this to be only their second ever gig in the U.K, playing an intriguing, entertaining brand of intricate folk rock, to which the crowd respond well. Somewhat bizarrely, after further winning over the audience, commencing a cover of Wreckless Eric’s classic, “Whole Wide World” to finish the set, Jurvanen induces a crowd sing-a-long before cutting the track relatively short, leaving the stage with no real purpose or conclusion.

Once Noah and the Whale appear, immaculately dressed in suits, their purpose is immediately apparent. This, a show designed for the larger audiences and venues, presenting the Londoners version of a big rock spectacle. Heavier, beefier interpretations of their dark and on occasions quirky back catalogue are foisted on an appreciative audience as the rhythm section in particular let loose with gay abandon, Matt Owens thrusting his bass guitar in front of amps to garner feedback and spending a large amount of time on the drum riser, almost rehearsing to replace Steve Harris in Iron Maiden, whilst Michael Petulla thumped out the beats. The rock aspect is further enhanced by an impressive light show and the resemblance of left handed guitarist Fred Abbot to a more youthful Eric Clapton.

Charlie Fink’s slightly mono tonal voice contrasts beautifully with Tom Hobdens haunting violin and initially all works rather well, perhaps via the novelty factor of hearing the songs of Noah and the Whale played in such an unusual manner.  As they progress, and although treated to great versions of “Five Years Time,” “Blue Skies,”Tonight’s the Kinda Night,“ and an especially buoyant version of “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.” something is missing. Whilst not apparent from the tumultuous reception from the crowd after final encore, “The First Days of Spring” I’m left with an overriding sense of emptiness. On more than one occasion, the arrangements leaned close to rock cliché, the integrity and passion of the original compositions lost in a sea of overemphasis and huge endings. 

As a true fan, having experienced Noah and the Whale on more than one occasion, tonight I assume, appeared refreshing, personally I’d hoped to fully experience their enigmatically intense nature. Instead, by incorporating such a big sound, I’m left with the memory of a watered down version.

Perhaps just a case of wrong place, wrong time?

Review/photo by Andy Barnes

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