10 Jun 2011: Music Box Hollywood, CA
What’s the secret ingredient for rock ‘n’ roll prowess? What is that elusive “it” factor that some have and most don’t? Can it be taught, or is it something one is just born with? It’s certainly not some manufactured formula, like an Axe Deodorant that claims to give men that pheromone-spiked boost the ladies crave. In fact, it may be the antithesis to sterile cleanliness.
It’s gotta be sweat. Rock’s always been a little off its hinges, seething with something animalistic. The term means sex, after all, so it’s only fitting that the key element to truly being a rock star is perspiration. And lots of it.
So even though the trio of disco-punk kings known as Friendly Fires aren’t yet a household name, the boys are rock stars of the finest sense. They get drenched before the end of the first third of their gigs, those pleasure-filled exhibitions of cowbells and frantic thrusting. They’re like the sexiest wind-up toys you’ll ever behold.
Front man Ed Macfarlane isn’t one for talking much. He’ll squeak out a “cheers” or two, and nearing the end of the funky soiree at Hollywood’s Music Box, he thanked Los Angeles for always showing his band a good time. But the majority of the performance, he’s all business. And he’s in the business of panty-dropping.
He might look mild-manned, a sort of Michael Cera clone in too-tight jeans. But strike up a beat, and Macfarlane turns into an inferno. His signatures moves mesh together the slinkiness of Axl Rose, the preening of Mick Jagger and the self-assured geekiness of Steve Urkel. Give those all a good dousing of Sweat, with a capital “s”, and you’ve got Britain’s most combustible lead singer.
Not to be outdone by their whirling dervish of a band mate, guitarist Edd Gibson and drummer Jack Savidge (how rock ‘n’ roll are those monikers?!) radiate their own nuclear firepower. Behind the sprawling kit of skins, all glittery and guttural, Savidge lives up to his last name. No snare is spared; no symbol goes uncrashed. And he looks pleased as punch to be delivering the hits for fans.
To his right, Gibson invokes the thunder of the party pantheon and lays waste to his instrument. During their breakout single “Paris”, off 2008’s self-titled release (XL Recordings), the ax man takes what looks like a blender or iron to the frets to run the notes in reverse. It’s either the world’s biggest E-Bow, or Gibson found better use for those pesky household appliances.
The entire set was rollicking, and Friendly Fires knew they had to cram enough sweat into a finite setlist because another sweaty event was invading later that night at the Music Box: a rave. They showed how appropriate the double bill was by flicking the switch on some very intense strobe lights, which shone golden one moment, then morphed into uncontrollable beams the next. Coupled with the menacing throbbing of their backing musician’s bass, the concert felt like a mini-Electric Daisy Carnival. The volume was making this writer’s hair stand on end.
Songs were equally pulled from Friendly Fires and their wicked new one, Pala, and the mixture was seamless. Only now, with meaty dance tracks such as “Live Those Days Tonight”, the material feels more massive. Aiding this wall of sound were a couple of sax players obscured amid the stage fog. But their blaring came front and center for the ‘80s homage “Show Me Lights”. With the golden luminescence gleaming behind them, it bordered on “Viva Las Vegas” Elvis or a Phil Collins revue (Well, at least we know Elvis was a sweaty guy, too).
These Brits are quickly igniting pandemonium around the world. One indication that they’re about to blow up? When a swath of female admirers sought out the band to say hello after the concert, their merch guy replied that it’d be a good hour and a half before they’d be coming to the tour bus – Drew Barrymore was chatting them up backstage.
Ah, no one can resist that scintillating sweat.