The Black Cat was over stuffed this past Thursday with two high profile shows going on at the same time. While a huge chunk of those were jumping around on the second level to We Are Scientists, the rest were crammed into the tiny back room for a glimpse at one of this years possible next big things, Freelance Whales. Surprisingly, this would be the only one of the two shows to actually sell out. The Whales released Weathervanes late last year, too late for the big year end lists, but still ended up being heavily talked about as a personal favorite amongst those same people. All that word of mouth has lead to a bigger than expected tour for the band, and a fast start for an excellent record.
The night started out with quieter country rock, but quickly turned into a drunken mess by the second set with Animal Tropical trying to keep up with their flamboyant and inebriated front man. It was exciting, but hard to take seriously, and at times a little off putting. Sometimes it helps to put down the beer before you sing the verse, but what can you do when your synthesizer gives out and you’re left to sing those hooks yourself. By the time they walked off stage the audience had filled the tiny back room, the fans deciding to move forward instead of standing coyly in the back staring at their iPhones.
The main attraction came out soon thereafter and Freelance Whales launched into its short set with the first three tracks off Weathervanes. It was quick to notice that they had their live show figured out for the most part. The energy was high as they swapped instruments throughout, which was impressive since everyone on stage apparently knows how to play the banjo. The songs felt much more organic live with the studio gloss gone, giving a better feel for the music they wanted you to hear. There was an added innocence with songs like We Could Be Friends, and the wide-eyed set opener Generator ^ First Floor as they bounced around on stage trying not to fall on one another. Doris Cellar also seemed to be trying to find her voice amongst the noise, and while certain key parts might have been drowned out, it was just all part of the revelry. They wanted to be our friends as much as we wanted them to keep playing.
It was that feeling of newly found popularity that seemed to hit them just right, and they held onto it as long as they could. Even those glued to their PDA looked up and moved to the synth-heavy video game lines of Starring, one of the best for the night. This attention just made the Sufjan quiet Broken Horses stand out even more. The vigor on stage made it easy to forget how sleepy some of the tracks come across on record. Even the dreamy numbers like Ghosting and set closer Great Estates had a bigger life to them.
While no one knew the words to their songs quite yet, the people left the show wanted to, and the band had done their job. It took more than the usual talent to do what they did on stage. I never knew you could rock out and play a standing squeezebox at the same time, but they did it with big smiles on their faces. Freelance Whales had done what so many try to. They successfully pulled the D.C. crowd out of their shells and into the moment. This show only seemed like the beginning of a big year for these kids, one that may need a bigger stage next time.
Generator ^ First Floor
We Could Be Friends
The Greatest Estates
Generator ^ Second Floor