Friendly Fires make a joyous return with an unrelentingly funky, 80s-inspired set at the Roundhouse
It may have been autumn 2019 outside Camden’s Roundhouse – leaves littering the pavement the night before Halloween’s outrageous outfits hit the streets – but inside, it was the summer of 1988. Unashamedly so. The melodic, soulful voice of Friendly Fires frontman Ed Macfarlane is reminiscent of George Michael’s, and the overriding vibe of the show is peak Wham!.
The venue was packed to see the return of the St Albans band after an eight-year hiatus between releasing their second album and third, Inflorescent. The stage was set up with a brass section, two drum kits and two pairs of bongos. The sound created was infectiously bombastic.
The lighting expressed the disco at the heart of the show, switching up through a rainbow of colours whilst still remaining sleek and contemporary in design – shifting incarnations between chartreuse dashes of light, like disco hyphens, to multicoloured showers of light. It really added to the exuberance of the show.
While the sound had clearly marinated in pina colada and Hawaiian Tropic until giddy and sun-burnt, it also put one in mind of the pioneering house track from the same era, 1987’s Your Love by Frankie Knuckles, which the band covered on their debut EP.
Breakthrough single Jump in the Pool is sophisticated, skittering pop with complex samba-inspired rhythms and highlight Hawaiian Air is a frothy, bubbly concoction with soaring vocals. It is undoubtedly the sound a pina colada would make if it could sing. Skeleton Boy was another crowd-pleaser, this one bringing out more of the band’s 1990s house influence.
New material was just as appealing, with the boys going back to what bonded them in the first place: dancing in clubs. The Disclosure-produced Heaven Let Me In threw down the gauntlet for the evening, challenging us to dance like the only thing missing was the sea. Silhouettes proved another beguiling tune, while In the Hospital was as unrelentingly funky as the rest despite its title. It might be a bold statement, but there is not a song written that cannot be improved by a samba bongo breakdown. New tracks use more synths, which added an extra dimension to the already sophisticated sound, working to particularly good effect on the spectral glitchiness of Run the Wild Flowers. With the band only performing for the second time ever, it proved an arresting highlight of a joyous return to live performance.
Photos: Virginie Viche
For further information and future events visit Friendly Fires’s website here.
Watch the video for Silhouettes here: