It once seemed like St Albans’ party-starters Friendly Fires were destined to become one of the biggest bands of their time, back in the days of their 2008 self-titled debut.
Frontman Ed Macfarlane, earnestly goofy in his stage presence, seriously clever in his delivery, could light a room on fire; their music was remarkably detail-oriented pleasure pop with an electro du jour backing; and the band’s undeniable talent for elevating simple melodies to high-art was outstanding. Their debut album was, and still is, an incredible project.
Then came Pala, their follow-up which charted well thanks to the band’s soaring popularity – especially on the live circuit – but oddly failed to sustain the same magic as its predecessor, despite featuring just as much sonic prowess. What came next was unfortunate health issues and the death of a live band member, tragedies which sadly saw Friendly Fires burn out. Macfarlane and fellow FF member Edd Gibson became part of a new project, putting out an underrated album as The Pattern Forms, and it seemed like the pop-electro outfit that once burned so bright was no more.
I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a band’s comeback in a very long time.
Buttery house jam “Love Like Waves” arrived last year, and it was as if Friendly Fires had never left. A testament to how cult-like the reception to their previous material was, the band was welcomed back almost immediately, springing them into a string of international live shows and headline festival slots in the lead-up to next month’s Inflorescent.
They even made a return to Splendour in the Grass, 10 years after they first played the Byron Bay festival. Hence, the sideshows; one in Melbourne and one in Sydney, a brief tour now wrapped with a clear message: “we’re still here, we’re better than ever”.
It’s also clear that the band are taking this comeback very seriously. It’s painted on Ed’s face as he studiously tinkers with electronics between bursts of that signature, sporadic dancing crowds can’t get enough of. That commitment to maximal joy-pop weaves through various dance genres but always arrives at the same destination, strung together with melodies that instantly catch fire, regardless of whether you are familiar with their music or not.
Personal favourite “Lovesick” starts it off, Ed’s charming hook melting into the cacophony of percussion, synths and strums that build massive candy-coated walls of sound. Then comes a long line of crowd-pleasers: “Jump in the Pool”, “Can’t Wait Forever”, “Skeleton Boy”, “In the Hospital”. The band, which has swollen to include seven members (at least in a live setting) just wouldn’t stop banging out those big moments, and between non-stop drummer Jack Savidge and twang-slinger Edd Gibson there were trumpets, cowbells, a second guitar, and congos. It was wild, to say the very least.
It seemed like there were two versions of Ed Mac on stage. One, a fun-loving, high-energy Rockstar with moves that could give both Jagger and T.Herring a run for their money; second, a stone-faced (and probably incredibly exhausted) musician smashing away at various instruments to help his band manipulate and misshape these songs into hypnotic soundscapes, full of nuance pulled from various genres like house, new-wave, funk and disco – styles that seamlessly fit strongly with new cuts like “Silhouettes” and “Lack of Love”. They all became anthems, mostly due to an ever-present trumpet that bounced along these melodies as if the band were patiently waiting for the crowd to turn into one big conga line.
The focus turned to percussion for set-closer “Kiss of Life”, lifted so high the recorded version now sounds dull in comparison. But such is a Friendly Fires concert; as good as they sound on wax, live is where it’s at for such a talented, energetic band.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Jump in the Pool
Can’t Wait Forever
In the Hospital
Lack of Love
Live Those Days Tonight
Heaven Let Me In
Love Like Waves
Kiss of Life
The reviewer attended this show at Metro Theatre, Sydney on 22.07.19.
Feature image: Belinda Dipalo.