As one of those early FR fans I’ve got no problem admitting that “The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ left me uneasy. I distinctly remember the first time I heard ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ previewed at a show and not being sure of the new direction. The last show in town was at the Independent, which their popularity has long since outgrown. When I noticed the listing at the venue 4 months beforehand, it was already sold out. Despite having to pay three times face value, it was decidedly worth it as the set focused heavily on the earlier material. I hadn’t actually listened to ‘Pedestrian Verse’ that often before the show. This was partially due to waiting for the month long delayed LP and also because, despite generally liking the new direction, I still didn’t find it compelling. Going in, I was hoping that the performance would allow me to better understand and appreciate the album.
I think the thing that was most evident the other night was that FR live is where they truly are at their best. The beauty of the show was how seamlessly they integrated the new songs into the live performance, how fresh they sounded and just how well they worked. This time Pedro and I stood second row center; watching them play, figuring out who was doing what and when and truly appreciating how it is all so carefully balanced and articulated. This was not only highly enjoyable but somewhat of a revelation.
Double checking from some clips from the last Fillmore show we attended, I’m confident FR has added another person to the stage. Apologies for only using the pronoun, but he was magnificent in providing accompanying percussion and guitar. I was frequently drawn to his performance when wondering where a new dynamic in the sound was coming from. This happened a lot with the other performers as well. There is a certain musical ‘democracy’ to this band where everyone brings an equal amount to the table. At times, they are almost modular with overlapping chord progressions and even when everyone is doing something else the meticulous care given to the layering of the sound is almost breathtaking. They have become such a well-oiled machine (or an expensive German engineered car if you like) that is a delight to see in motion.
At this point I should mention that scanning the crowd I was frequently struck with how radiant their smiles and bright their eyes were. I’ve been to many a show (and have seen FR 7 times now) and can truthfully say that the joy expressed on the audience’s collective face is a degree higher than any other. It goes without saying that this enthusiasm is reciprocated by the band themselves. One of the integral components of any FR show are Scott Hutchison’s stories, sense of humour and humility.
There was a point where the warm-up to a song took a little longer than usual and I began wondering how I would answer the question, if asked, what my most and least favourite FR song would be. Just as the question was answered, ‘Backwards Walk’ commenced. My favourite version of this was at the Bottom of the Hill quite a few years back. This review captures that night rather succinctly but they are wrong about the encore. Scott did come back out, in the dark, and began singing ‘Backwards Walk’. It had an almost a cappella like start as he stood at the edge of the stage leaning forward as much as he could. There was some fumbling of guitar and I don’t honestly remember whether he was using an acoustic or an electric, but I do have the beauty of that performance in my heart. The new enhanced version worked but it was a far cry from that memory. This is rather a long build up to tell you something that ends up being contrary to what you might expect. The real achievement of the show was how seamlessly and perfectly the 8 songs played from ‘Pedestrian Verse’ fit in with the other songs in the set. They were the songs that sparkled, had depth, and were fully engaging. It isn’t that the older songs were no longer welcome, but proof of just how much further the new material has come.
There is something magical about listening to a new record the day after a show. Seconds after the needle was dropped with the opening keyboard lines of ‘Acts of Man’ I was back at the Fillmore. Prior to this, I wasn’t sure I really even liked the song. It ended up being the glorious live ‘ending’ to the regular set. I understand the record much better now. There is a whole new clarity that is hard to describe. Perhaps more importantly I don’t recall this experience with the last record. The distance between recording studio and stage seems shorter. Perhaps this time around the intent was to create something that would more fully and easily translate to the live performance. It worked. Even more, I think it is safe to say no studio recording could ever truly capture the majesty of FR live. Quite frankly, that is how it should be.
The answer to what is my least favourite song would have been ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’. I still remember the unease of hearing it the first time before the album and I’ve never really enjoyed it until now. Last night it just clicked. Admittedly, the first song that came into my head the next morning was a Twilight Sad one, but when I was trying to conjure up a FR song I was rather surprised to be ‘listening’ to my ‘least’ favourite song.. Maybe I’m just slow.
2 apples, a poster, the Fillmore center 2 rows deep, the 7th FR show, and a stripped down Twilight Sad opener – I so wish that could happen more often with the other bands on our radar. But until then, I can’t wait until the 8th.
I’ve purposefully not mentioned the Twilight Sad because we get a rare opportunity to see them twice in one week and will put my thoughts off until then.