Freelance Whales | 10.26.12

ingrid sqThe entire group plays with confidence and purpose, fiddling with equipment often to get the diverse sounds they are looking for.

 

Two of the most aptly named bands in the music industry, Geographer and Freelance Whales, filled Firebird with a joyous noise last Friday night. If a musical journey is what you’re after, Geographer provides maps to magical places, and lead singer Michael Deni is a master cartographer. Freelance Whales is like experiencing a nature documentary on the science and capability of sound, and just like a pod of Cetacean creatures, remind me that actual words are only part of how we communicate with one another. We humans have a slew of calls and sounds with which to emote, much like our cousins of the sea.

Having the two bands together on one night made for an evening that was not just fun, but life affirming. Now maybe I am being slightly dramatic since a bacterial infection has had me laid out for weeks and this was one of the first nights I was able to get out and really enjoy myself. Then again, I don’t think I would be the only person in the audience who would say that these two groups and their songs make a person glad to be alive.

Geographer kicked their portion off with “Lover’s Game” and played a satisfyingly long set that had a good balance of songs off both albums. There is just so much to love about this trio based out of San Francisco. I was really fascinated by Nathan Blaz and his electric cello, which I really don’t think I’ve ever seen played live before, and I honestly didn’t realize how much that instrument is responsible for their sound. I had thought the synthesizer was king in the group and while it is crucial, that cello plays an equally crucial role. Brian Ostreicher’s drumming connects the dots, enclosing the music and keeping it grounded.

The band obviously hearkens back to bands like New Order and Erasure but is decidedly modern and fresh. Deni’s vocals are lush and serene; he has one of those voices that makes you feel like you are having a warm and comforting conversation with a friend. He’s also an amazing connector with the audience; clasping hands and giving high fives as he sings, at one point walking down off of the stage and coming right into the middle of the crowd, fist skyward and jumping up and down with everyone.

All of this has evidently captured some true fans for the group, one of which he spoke. “Last time we were here someone had lyrics from a song tattooed on his chest. Guess he’s not here tonight. Still, that’s a pretty good fan.” I can understand that kind of devotion. While I might not be ready to get inked, I definitely agree with another statement by Deni: “This is so much fun. I wish we could play for you every single day of our lives.”

Like Geographer, Freelance Whales is touring in support of their sophomore LP, Diluvia. Their first, Weathervanes, is among my favorite albums, despite being met with mixed critical reviews. We reviewers must confuse the living daylights out of you, gentle readers. What one critic sees as childish, derivative and cloying another finds charming, innocent and refreshing. Good thing we are all capable of forming our own opinions. New albums might never get listened to if people just went off of the advice of writers in music magazines. Some of whom cannot seem to get off of this “Judah Dadone sounds like Ben Gibbard” bus. Enough, already! So what? They have similar voices and a similar way of voicing their thoughts lyrically. Why does this keep getting thrown about as if one invalidates the other? I just think its stupid. I guess what I am trying to say is that fellow critics be damned, Weathervanes will always hold a special place in my heart and I think Diluvia is snuggling in right next to it.

As I mentioned above, Freelance Whales have an arsenal of tools to communicate with: lyrics, about 75 different instruments (okay that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, how big of a truck do you guys come with?), and a slew of vocalizations. Like Judah said early on in the set, “Its okay if you don’t know the words, you can still sing along.” The band was met with a chorus of ah’s, oo-ooo’s, la’s, and hums from a rapt audience.

The crowd that night was youthful. The smell of teen spirit and acne medication filled the air, making me feel like an old, old lady who loves some young, young music. They were also one of the most respectful audiences I’ve been amongst recently. Everyone was engrossed, participatory, and happy, and not once did I have to shoot anyone the laser eye of death for chattin’ it up incessantly about their shitty boyfriend or work drama. How refreshing!

Whereas Weathervanes had a grounded, rooted and enclosed feeling, Diluvia is all airy, light and floating. The ambient first track “Aeolus” refers to the Greek god of the winds. Outer space is a prominent theme, as in “Red Star,” which Dadone explained is “about losing a loved one out in outer space and going out there to get them.” It does have a very “sputnik-y” feel to it, especially in the horns. “Winter Seeds” and “Spitting Image” are my favorites on the LP, both of which are floaty and shot through with sparkles of light. The latter, was one of the best moments of the performance that night. Doris Cellar takes the lead on that song and her love for what she does is evident and infectious.

The entire group plays with confidence and purpose, fiddling with equipment often to get the diverse sounds they are looking for, switching places and instruments often. In particular, Kevin Read (acoustic and electric guitar, glockenspiel, mandolin, synthesizer, vocals) was seriously impressive in his handling of every instrument he laid a hand upon. The group included several of their older songs, such as “Hannah,” “Location,” and “Generator ^ First Floor.” The encore was a trio of crowd favorites. First, the seasonally appropriate “Broken Horse,” in which Dadonne sings, “October’s got those orange eyes/ But somehow I still lost sight/ When you lifted the lid off my pumpkin head/ And kissed me goodnight.”

“Starring” led to the audience helping out with some creative clapping to supplement the percussion. Finally, “DNA Bank” was the perfect lullaby to leave us with, providing a lovely end to what was a truly lovely evening. | Janet Rhodes

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