Fanfarlo: 10.Dec.2009 – Philadelphia

Words and Pictures by Sachyn Mital

Last June I was informed of a band, Fanfarlo, and was offered their album, Reservoir, for a $1 download. So nonchalantly I purchased it. It wasn’t until the end of summer though, after I heard they were playing NYC with Jonsi and Alex (Riceboy Sleeps) DJ’ing the same show, that I finally listened to their CD. It did not sink in right away, but I soon found myself listening to it repeatedly. As an aside, Peter Katis, of Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, CT, is the linchpin in this string of relations as he produced both Reservoir and Jonsi’s forthcoming album Go (as well as the new Swell Season album, Strict Joy, amongst others.)

Back to Reservoir, though. The album is addictive and encourages repeat listening as it swells with lush orchestration, particularly trumpets, violin, and mandolin, which you don’t often hear in indie bands (outside of say Arcade Fire or Beirut, natural inspirations.) After missing all of Fanfarlo NYC shows, I finally caught them in Philadelphia at the intimate Johnny Brenda’s. For a band labeled by Philadelphia’s WXPN as an “Artist to Watch” and by Spin as a “Hot New Band,” I was not surprised it was sold out, just surprised at how small the venue was.

Simon Balthazar and two others started out the night with an acoustic version of “Drowning Man” before the rest of the band joined them on the tight stage for “I’m a Pilot.” Their friend Pam accompanied them on this tune, her passionate violin synchronised with Cathy Lucas. Over the course of the short set, Fanfarlo performed most of the songs from Reservoir rather straightforward, along with a couple of new tunes. Following “Pilot” was “Finish Line” and then the catchy “Harold T Wilkins.” Lucas acknowledged the presence of many red hats in the audience before the band dove into a new song that might or might not have been played in Philly previously. The audience paid due attention throughout it all, some even going so far as to be seen bopping and swaying along.

Throughout the night, five of the multi-instrumentalists maneuvered deftly amongst each other, swapping instruments while drummer, Amos Memon, remained locked tight behind his corner kit. It was fortunate he was there at all, as Balthazar recalled forgetting him at a rest stop, joking about not knowing who Memon was. On the next song, “Comets,” they even managed to squeeze Pam and her harp back onto the edge of the stage. Their performance of this song in particular really conveyed the expansiveness of their music as Leon Beckenham’s trumpet and other instruments resonated clearly in the venue. Afterwards, Balthazar issued a “super-liminal” suggestion to the audience, saying “you all know how to stomp,” before going into the song, “The Walls are Coming Down.” Fanfarlo performed two other songs: the subdued but gorgeous “Ghosts,” and the frantic “Luna,” before taking a break surprisingly early and leaving the unsatiated audience salivating for more.

Returning for an encore, Balthazar introduced a new song, “Waiting in the Wings.” It was a mellow song that started with just violin and trumpet before evolving into a retro groove, unique amongst the other songs performed yet equally appealing. The band concluded with a boisterous rendition of “Fire Escape”, before leaving the stage not quite an hour after taking it. In that brief period, Fanfarlo demonstrated that they are a band to follow. Despite forming in 2006, and already receiving accolades from David Bowie, Fanfarlo is a group that still can be discovered and now is a perfect time. They might be performing at a small venue near you–that is, when they return to pick up the drummer they forgot at a rest stop.

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