Lollapalooza 2011, Sunday: Noah and the Whale

Perhaps it's just the ukulele and reclaimed-timber timbre of Charlie Fink's basement tenor voice, but I can't help but hear the Magnetic Fields all over Noah and the Whale. Lacking the female backing vocals of departed member Laura Marling, this impression is now less the case, but Fink's love-bruised and helplessly nostalgic storytelling still inhabits a Stephin Merritt–like verbal deftness, with 73 percent fewer winks and 100 percent less audience aversion. We're also happy to report that the self-aware fringe-ism of director Wes Anderson, whom the band cherishes as an artistic beacon, is positively absent from the live show.


The U.K. boys had a more than healthy turnout for a sweltering midday slot, opening with a pre-recorded brass band cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," which drew an expected sing-along from the crowd. Well, that's certainly one way to amp an audience with little to no effort, but kudos for the quirky choice of a brass arrangement. Sporting dark suits, the band lauched onstage with "Give a Little Love," enjoying some of the best sound mixing we've heard at the oft-beleaguered Bud Light stage. Even Tom Hobden's fiddle was audible (not an easy feat in a festival setting).


Noah and the Whale has moved far beyond the folk-centric sound of its debut Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, which paved the way for bands like Mumford & Sons, and here the combo synth/acoustic sound world sounded positively brilliant on tunes like "Just Before We Met." Others, like "Blue Skies," abounding in introspection and pathos, translated effectively even under the midday sun. Bands may be at the mercy of their assigned time of day, but Noah and the Whale proved once again that great music is, quite simply, great music.



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