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Noah and the Whale
Bowery Ballroom
May 1, 2009

Reviewed by Eric Atienza
Photographed by Amy Davidson



Opposite Photo:
Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale



Noah and the Whale burst into the Bowery Ballroom with quite a bit of hype stemming from a Wes Anderson-esque music video for (not to mention Saturn commercial featuring) quirky hit "5 Years Time" and pre-show buzz for the British band was readily apparent. Taking the stage first, however, was the black-spandex-clad violist/violist Anni Rossi. Backed simply by drums, Rossi's smooth yet playful vocalizations played off of her sweet string melodies quite well though once the novelty of a violin/drum two-piece wore off the shortfalls of the arrangement began to show through. The major hitch in the set was the fact that there simply wasn't enough substance filling out the flair of Rossi's playing and singing. Her incredibly textured voice and bowing promised a robust sound and yet most of the songs felt thin and empty. The drum bits sounded mostly like an afterthought and seemed to travel beneath Rossi rather than support her, which is a shame because her playing and singing were just full enough to promise a payoff that the duo was simply not equipped to deliver. The opening stanza of the night ultimately sounded like a well-arranged and well executed score for which a few of the musicians failed to show up.

Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale

The country/folk stylings of Ferraby Lionheart were the highlight of the evening. The Californian (by way of Nashville) crafted easily flowing, smooth tunes that effortlessly captured ears and imaginations. The toe-tapping, earnest sensibilities recall early Wilco albums (minus the extended jams) with catchy hooks build on solid rhythms while personal and touching lyrics front subdued but well-played drumming and some killed two-part vocal harmonies. Lionheart effortlessly walked the line between touching folk and sugary indie-pop delivering and end product both audibly sweet and spiritually nutritious.

Noah and the Whale's troubles likely began before even booking this show. Original members Wendy Jane (rumored to have penned many of the more popular numbers) and Laura Marling (currently a rising folk-pop singer in her own right) both left the band in 2007 and apparently took most of the jovial spirit the band had cultivated with them. The group plodded through their set mostly playing down-tempo blues-ish offerings featuring uninspired, predictable and largely repetitive rhythms. The songs - likely from the band's upcoming yet-to-be-titled album - had none of the quirk the band had previously been known for. Instead these tunes, ever-so-slowly dripping from lackadaisical fingers, sported incredibly unremarkable crooning, nonexistent time changes, and an energy level that actually seemed to suck interest out of the room. Noah and the Whale would be wise to rethink the direction of their music as the stellar ex-Whale Marling is far surpassing the music they've managed to put together without her.

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