Friendly Fires, Brixton Academy, 25 November 2011

Following the release of what is rightly deemed as one of the albums of the year by virtually everyone who has heard it, high expectations are riding on Friendly Fires’ performance at Brixton Academy tonight.

Support act SBTRKT’s debut album has received similar praise, and a buzz of excitement grasps the room as two masked figures step onto the stage.

Their musicianship is impressive as both Aaron Jerome (SBTRKT) and collaborator Sampha prove themselves as outstanding percussionists, delving into carnival-style rhythms that go down a treat with Friendly Fires’ samba-loving fans. And alongside the beats Sampha’s stunning vocals are delivered with a grippingly soulful passion.

The audience is split: roughly half are singing and dancing along, already familiar with SBTRKT’s standout dub-pop sound, while the rest nod their heads, fast being won over by their infectious tunes.

In this cruelly cut-length preview of a set giant hits like Pharaohs are missed off, leaving new listeners unaware of the true scope of their brilliance, but ending it on Wildfire has no doubt teased many into investigating SBTRKT further.

As this huge room fills and a stunning drum kit donning the famous parrot artwork of Pala is revealed, a sense of giddy excitement is building. The audience is itching to move their feet.

Finally, the giant Pala album cover which served as a backdrop for SBTRKT is lifted, revealing a slow-motion video of the parrot in flight. If it wasn’t obvious already, Friendly Fires’ stunning album artwork is now confirmed as the definite theme of the evening.

Greeted with an enormous cheer, Friendly Fires and their accompanying brass band launch into a set comprised of a perfect balance of old and new tracks which showcases the consistent greatness of their music.

Youngsters at the front donning copycat Hawaiian shirts attempt to imitate frontman Ed Macfarlane’s unrivalled dance moves as the Academy succumbs to a rare bout of hip-shaking, instead of the pushing and shoving that takes over your average indie gig.

But tonight is far from average. Right from the start, this is more than a gig: this is a show.

Towards the end of crowd favourite Jump In The Pool, four dancers dressed as (you guessed it) parrots meander their way to the front of the stage, stopping the young dancing boys dead in their tracks. Everyone stops and stares, hypnotised for the rest of this rhythm-fuelled percussive breakdown by the beautiful, jewelled-bikini-clad women who look like they’ve got lost on their way to the Rio Carnival. It is fantastic – a rare treat for the people on the balcony, who have the space to take in the full spectacle.

As the show goes on not only are audience members treated to passionate renditions of new tracks like Blue Cassette, whose dramatic riffs deafen the room, and old favourites like Skeleton Boy, almost all of which end in percussion-fuelled dance-offs, but the focus on the visuals remains.

By the end, Brixton Academy has witnessed a series of uniquely spectacular light shows, the reappearance of the dancers in hula gear for Hawaiian Air, and thrilling blasts of confetti so vast the street outside is later littered with it.

Still pumped with the adrenalin of a night of non-stop dancing, the fans leave uplifted: everyone appears to be on a high. Friendly Fires took our high expectations and blasted them with confetti. And with an energy like that, this band is unstoppable.

By Sophie Armour

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