Noah and the Whale – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Tuesday May 17
Noah and the Whale have a particular fondness for the Rescue Rooms. Charlie Fink, their lead singer and songwriter, made his professional live debut there, supporting the Swedish act Loney Dear. Since then, his band have become regular visitors. They’re probably big enough to graduate to Rock City by now, but they have stuck with the venue, cramming their fans tightly into the sold-out space.
Capacity gigs at the Rescue Rooms can be a lot of fun, but only with the right act and the right crowd. Noah and the Whale are a fairly diffident bunch on stage, and their supporters tend towards the mild-mannered. Consequently, last night’s show never really caught fire. Heads nodded, necks strained, but arms and feet barely twitched.
This subdued mood was partly a consequence of the way that the set was structured, with all the gentler, more romantic material shunted into the first forty minutes. Introducing Rocks and Daggers, the first uptempo song of the night – but the twelfth song on their set list – Fink even apologised for not warning us in advance. Lulled into submission, the crowd were slow to shift gear.
Originally bracketed with Mumford and Sons as ambassadors of a so-called “new folk” movement, Noah and the Whale have broadened their range with each release. Their second album, The First Days Of Spring, was a downbeat collection of heartbreak songs, inspired by Fink’s break-up with former band member Laura Marling. Few of its tracks have survived into this year’s tour, but the slide guitar-driven My Door Is Always Open was a mid-set highlight. Curiously, the album’s opening title track closed the main set, its misplaced optimism (“I’m still here hoping that one day you may come back”) sounding all the more poignant.
For their third and latest release, Last Night On Earth, the band have looked towards more American influences. It’s clear that they’ve been listening to Lou Reed, and maybe Springsteen and Tom Petty as well. Their knack for honing timeless, easy-on-the-ear melodies is as strong as ever, even if some of those melodies do seem a little familiar: the verses of L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. bear more than a passing similarity to The Kinks’ Lola, and the driving riff that powers the chorus of new single Tonight’s The Kind Of Night could have been sampled from Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.
Inevitably, the loudest cheers were reserved for the biggest hit. If the breezy, happy-go-lucky and increasingly unrepresentative 5 Years Time is starting to feel like an albatross round their necks, the band didn’t show it. It’s the sort of song that’s best enjoyed on a sunny afternoon at an open air festival, not in a tightly packed club on a chilly evening – but just for a few minutes, we caught a brief, cheering glimpse of the summer to come.