Noah and the Whale @ Rock City, Nottingham 6/10/2011

The renewed-effervescence of Twickenham five-piece Noah and the Whale is all the more evident (and welcome) tonight, the start of an Autumn tour that neatly follows a triumphant stint on the summer festival circuit, where the reception to material from third record ‘Last Night On Earth’ has well and truly cemented Charlie Fink’s troupe as big-time players. Should be no trouble in front of a few hundred of the dearest fans then, eh?

Resplendent in their now trademark suited ‘n’ booted attire, gone is the atmosphere of doom and despondence that coloured their sophomore album ‘The First Days of Spring’ (written essentially about the fallout of Fink’s break-up with Laura Marling) quite so brilliantly, as the feel-good ambience returns from the early ‘5 Years Time’-era, albeit with a new musical direction. The upbeat, 80s-infused attitude of new numbers like ‘Tonight’s The Kind of Night’ and opener ‘Just Me Before We Met’ (the latter gradually building into a Springsteen-esque chorus of surprisingly epic proportions) kick proceedings off rather comfortably, declaring to those in attendance that it’s once again OK to dance to their music.

It’s unmistakably apparent that Noah and the Whale have come into their own on the stage, any old fool could tell you that. What a contrast there is between the bashfulness (and perhaps slightly embarrassed) that plagued the group’s presence within the live arena back in 2007/8 when all the punters just wanted to hear the chirpy twee of ‘5 Years Time’ and the actual screams of jubilation tonight that are reserved for when they launch into the powerful duo of ‘Life is Life’ and ‘Give It All Back’ (the latter a real punch-the-air in adulation moment, which isn’t an isolated occurrence this evening). There’s a great level of maturity, belief, and actual enjoyment flowing from one bandmember to the next, and it works to their advantage on stage so much.

Admittedly, however, it’s when they’re all guns blazing that the show peaks. Mid-set however, Charlie & co. take the whole “we’re gonna slow things down a bit” concept a bit too seriously, playing three slowies back-to-back. Whilst these offerings are rather lovely, heartfelt songs that ring true with the diehards and perhaps show the band (or at least chief songwriter Fink) at their most vulnerable, those enamoured with the rockier aspect of Noah and the Whale shuffle to the bar and restart their conversations. This is never a good sign at any show, but it’s an inevitable fixture if a band tries to find a balance between the loud and quiet moments from their ever-expanding back catalogue.

Before long though we’re back on track with the rock show, as the band rounds things off with a trio of hits that includes a surprisingly raucous rendition of ‘5 Years Time’, current single ‘Waiting For My Chance To Come’, and the quite wonderful international superhit ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N’. But, special as that trio is, the real highlight comes with the encore. Remember how we sort of dismissed The First Days of Spring at the start of this here review? Well, we perhaps forgot to mention that the title track from that album is one of the best things Noah and the Whale have ever done: thrown into the sumptuous pot are delicate guitars, distant drums, hushed vocals and lucious strings that eventually builds into one of the most euphoric moments in recent times. And the post-rock brilliance is delivered flawlessly by the band, reiterating how bloody good they are live.

Noah and the Whale go from strength to strength, both on record and on stage. As testament to that, they’ve only gone and booked themselves in for a headline show at The Royal Albert Hall next April. Given how grandiose they sounded in the less-than-regal settings of Nottingham’s Rock City tonight, performing their eclectic set within the duldrums of one of Britain’s most spectacular and renowned music venues would most likely transport you to someplace you’ve never quite been before. Think we’ll book our tickets now, actually.

Sam Moore

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