Fanfarlo at the Varsity Theater, 03/31/12

The Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fanfarlo have grown up quite a bit since their first Minneapolis show in 2009. Gone are the fresh-faced innocents who tentatively took to the Triple Rock stage, and here is a band who have proudly reached legal drinking age (though they still look rather young) and have evolved their current sound.

And that ornate new direction and style was on full display at the Varsity Theater on Saturday night, as the London-based quintet delivered a stirring 75-minute set that was heavy on material from the recently released, Rooms Filled With Light, which fit seamlessly alongside their slightly reworked older songs.

Fanfarlo's new songs are heavy on synth-driven pop, a point which was made clear during the band's first track of the night, "Replicate," which featured frontman Simon Balthazar ushering the song forward from behind a keyboard. Balthazar switched to his more familiar guitar for "Tightrope, which featured a bouncy pulse and a dramatic, horn-laden outro which really seemed to invigorate the audience. Simon took notice as well, saying, "Minneapolis, you are by far the most beautiful crowd we've had so far on tour. I'm going to teach you some Swedish." He then toasted us with a 'Skol!,' not knowing that the area is made up of quite a lot of Swedes who are all too familiar with the gesture.

"Feathers" featured a rousing singalong between Bathazar and keyboardist/violinist Cathy Lucas, but the band really hit their stride on the evening's first sampling from Reservoir, "I'm A Pilot," which was an emphatic, swelling number that was awash in Leon Beckenham's lush trumpet strains. Bassist Justin Finch then took a moment to tell us he just got a tattoo an hour before the show, to which Balthazar joked, "Is it infected? Can I smell it?" The band were clearly at ease at this point, which only added to the intimacy and impact of their material. 

"Lenslife" featured a colorful six-sided screen lit up behind the band that added a touch of artistry to an already theatrical song. Bathazar again took to the keys for the soaring elegance of "Comets," which was one of the night's clear standouts. The band replaced Lucas' singing saw with a more electronic touch, which enhanced the dynamic feel of the song, which again was augmented by Beckenham's golden brass sounds. Bathazar joined him on saxophone for a funky, horn-filled intro to "Deconstruction," which the band quickly followed up with the lively, Talking Heads-like "Finish Line," which sounded grandiose in the Varsity's lavish confines.

The band slowed things down quite a bit on "A Flood," which featured a moving a cappella intro that only added to the song's lingering significance. But things picked right back up again with the energetic rhythms of "Luna," and the distinctly '80s vibe of the snyth-driven "Dig." A big bell hung portentously in front of Bathazar throughout the show, and went unrung until the rousing "Shiny Things," which found Simon emphatically ringing the bell while looming at the side of the stage over the spirited crowd.

Before a rousing version of "Harold T. Wilkins Or How To Wait For A Very Long Time" closed out the main set, Bathazar told us they were going to "play one more and go get another glass of vodka and see what happens." And while the encore break was so short that I'm not sure Simon ever got his refill, it didn't matter, as both the slow-burning majesty of "Bones" and the exhilarating closer "The Walls Are Coming Down" ended the night in a grand manner. Fanfarlo were just one of many great concerts happening in the Twin Cities on this busy Saturday night, but anyone who made the decision to come to the Varsity came away knowing that they made the right choice.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I'm a massive fan of Reservoir, but Fanfarlo's new material really came to life for me in a live setting.

The Crowd: An odd mix of true fans of the band, and college kids who were clearly just out to have a good time on a Saturday night.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I really wish he'd ring that bell already. I can't take the suspense."

Random Notebook Dump: Santa Barbara's Gardens & Villa delivered a spirited opening set that was a nice blend of dramatic modern rock mixed with a synthy, '80s-throwback vibe. Frontman Chris Lynch even had a quiver of flutes strapped to his back, which he brought out periodically throughout their set to augment their striking sound.





I'm A Pilot




Finish Line

A Flood



Shiny Things

Harold T. Wilkins Or How To Wait For A Very Long Time

Bones (Encore)

The Walls Are Coming Down (Encore)

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