With furrowed brows we made our way into the Palace Theatre for the show. It was a magnificent setting– a classically elegant Victorian room. This was the beginning of what would be an evening of masterful choreography and atmosphere. All of the stewards were wearing white boiler suits – in keeping with the setting of Finks’ film that was to be screened. It felt like being at the theatre rather than at a gig. Ice cream sellers were dotted around, programs were being sold on every corner and we all sat on comfy red velvet seats behind miniature binoculars. Even the pre-show background music was obviously carefully curated.
The band began with a short stripped-down set. They walked on stage to Paradise Stars – an instrumental track from their last album ‘Last Night On Earth’. This went seamlessly into an acoustic but weighty version of Give a Little Love. From the start there was a feel of slick confidence – the product of a band at ease with themselves and comfortable performing. An acoustic guitar led version of Tonight is The Kind of Night preceded the first from their new album - Not Too Late. A haunting rendition of I Have Nothing from ‘First Days Of Spring’ came next, and within five songs the band had drawn from all of their four albums. Fink thanked us for our attention and brought a close to “The Support Act” with First Days Of Spring that climaxed heavily with chaotic strobe lights and obliviously involved twirling bodies.
Now was the time for the film Heart Of Nowhere – directed by Fink. It is a bleak portrayal of a future state in which ‘dangerous’ teenagers are taken to be wiped of their personalities and memories – released as less threatening to society. I enjoyed the film, and empathised with the notion of protecting expression and freedom from an overbearing regime. I felt the album was based around coming of age, and that the film was slightly incongruous with this concept. I was expecting the film to be largely set to the songs of the album, but it had surprisingly few obvious links to the music. The two were more divided than I had imagined. That said, it had some beautiful shots and an interesting story. At no point did my attention waver.
After a short interval the band returned for the second half of their set. A rambunctious Heart Of Nowhere began proceedings. They were on-song and on-form. Drummer Michael Petulla had a broad grin on his face from start to finish and fiddler Tom Hobden was characteristically upbeat. We were also treated to some of Finks’ signature moves. He cuts some extremely snazzy shapes behind the microphone, and it is a pleasure to see. Perhaps he was in a good mood after some particularity good birthday presents.
A highlight of the show, credited by the band as “The Most avant-garde performance of Singing In The Rain, ever” (referring to the fact the musical currently holds residency in the theatre), was This Is Exactly The Time. It is one of the more tender tracks from the new album, in which Fink talks candidly about the struggles of relationships. Things became consistently upbeat from here. There was a golden moment when guitarist Fred Abbot was challenged to a lead-guitar ‘shoot out’ by bassist Matt Owens. To the backdrop of Still After All These Years they exchanged bouts of shredding which climaxed with harmonising solos.
The crowd was then brought to their feet by 5 Years Time – the song that pushed the band into the publics’ eye and onto the radio. We remained standing after this (the last of the main set) and throughout the encore. There will come a time preceded their closing song – a cover of Digital Love by Daft Punk. By this time the crowd was boogying freely and the band exited to rapturous and adoring applause.
The show was all about Noah And The Whale. They supported themselves and separated their sets with their own film. It was a fully deserved indulgence and a fitting homage to a band that have a rare level of creative intelligence and who have maintained such a high level of quality through their careers. It was a far cry from the conventional gig format and this is without question to their credit. I am sure that I am not alone in feeling that it was a little bit special. The band can kick-back, don some silk kimonos and feel extremely satisfied with a show-well-done!