Noah And The Whale - Wolverhampton Civic Hall
During Mumford & Sons' rise to US domination in 2010, I wonder how many fans of Marcus and co.'s rollicking, fiddle-happy, oh-so-beardy anthems stopped to think about Noah And The Whale. After all, they were first out of the gate in 2008 with chirpy breakout 'Five Years Time' (which they wore round their skinny necks like an albatross for some time after) but failed to pique the interests of the mainstream with their second album, a mature but significantly less chirpy record documenting lead singer Charlie Fink's breakup with folk chanteuse Laura Marling. However, last year something funny happened and the difficult second album was all but forgotten as the band's slick third effort became their most commercially successful to date here in the UK. And they managed this without changing their moniker, the odd eyebrow raise of a name inspired by a strange little indie film. So, yeah, take that Marcus.
Considering their recent success, it's no surprise that the band's return to the UK gig circuit is totally triumphant. This leg of dates is the band's second in support of that third album Last Night On Earth and they play like it is just that, a joyous celebration of life and death - and the good things the album has done for their career - that a packed-out Wolves Civic is invited to witness and participate in. The band's retro, theatrical video backdrop announces their arrival on stage with the synth-powered, Tom Petty-inspired 'Life is Life' which immediately enamours both the young and old elements of a crowd clearly taken with these polite-looking chaps dressed in waistcoats and braces. Although the band are hardly trailblazing a new path for rock 'n' roll bad behaviour, the sincerity of their music and performance almost feels subversive enough - and, on this Thursday night, is more than enough to sail them straight through to a jubilant climax.
Surefire highlights from the new album include a brooding 'Wild Thing' and sing-along conclusion 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.' which attracts the biggest cheers at the end of the night and does what the show has threatened to do all along: turn into a full-on throwdown hoedown. Of course, the band's recent direction has upped the pop and rock elements of their sound, but the live show reminds us that so-called 'nu-folk' doesn't have to be po-faced and over-egged when the boys pull out their fiddles for a trip down memory lane; 'Rocks & Daggers' is a particularly welcome treat, its glorious climax bringing the house down even without the recorded version's vocal from one-time contributor Marling. Interesting diversions, such as 'Love Of An Orchestra' being aided by a backdrop choir, add to the show's dynamics but really this is a show that highlights the band's newfound ease at delivering rousing, unapologetically optimistic anthems for everyone and their dad to do a little jig to. It's not coincidental that 'Five Years Time' once again makes the cut, and when a Fink unbound from his waistcoat scales the speakers, you get the sense this is just as life-affirming for the band as it is for the crowd members twirling each other on the floor. Grand.