Fanfarlo: Live last night

fanfarloFanfarlo's Simon Balthazar led his band through a set of stately chamber-pop at a sold-out Iota on Friday night. (By Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

Live Last Night

By David Malitz

Why were all those folks standing and shivering on the Wilson Boulevard sidewalk Friday night? The realities of Virginia's new indoor smoking ban? Nope, just people lined up hoping to get into the very sold out show at Iota featuring London chamber-pop sextet Fanfarlo. Those who arrived early enough to be admitted (perhaps one day Iota will sell advance tickets) watched as Fanfarlo avoided all the traps that sometimes plague bands that regularly trade instruments and sing in unison. These songs weren't precious or cloying, but instead well-crafted mini-symphonies that earned their crescendos and singalongs.

(Rockin' the glockenspiel, after the jump.)

Arcade Fire was the most obvious reference point, as both bands feature violin, rugged acoustic guitar, marching beats and occasional blasts of brass. But while Arcade Fire sets its sights on emotional catharsis every minute, Fanfarlo is content to just make sure it all sounds plenty pretty. And that was almost exclusively the case. Simon Balthazar never shouted; his casual croon - think a less twitchy David Byrne, or a less affected Zach Condon (of Beirut) - gently mingled with mandolin, glockenspiel and whatever else was there to be plucked or clinked.

On "The Walls Are Coming Down" it was voice that was the featured instrument as five of the six band members chanted together during the intro before it morphed into a dirge that like most songs was a just touch too buoyant to be considered melancholy. "Luna" was the most celebratory number of the night but even that didn't last for the entire song. Cathy Lucas bounced in place while strumming a mandolin and Balthazar put down his guitar to whack a snare drum for some extra oomph. But soon they reigned themselves in - he traded a drumstick for a clarinet, she went back to the violin and a somber trumpet line by Leon Beckenham closed it out.

By David Malitz |  December 14, 2009; 9:23 AM ET Live Last Night
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