Freelance Whales/Broken Records – Melkweg – 09.02.2011

This double-header took place in my favourite room for live music in Amsterdam, the Oude Zaal in the Melkweg. Both bands played for more than an hour and it seemed that there were more people there specifically to see Freelance Whales than Broken Records. This is a pity as, for me at least, the latter delivered a stronger and more entertaining performance.

Broken Records were the second band on stage and they kind of acknowledged that the crowd had thinned a bit by then. According to Wikipedia (so it must be true) the NME has described them as the “Scottish Arcade Fire” – this is a pretty good description. Adding piano, trumpet and violin to the standard guitars, bass and drums line-up makes for a full sound. Their drummer in particular really put his heart and soul into a performance that was almost as enjoyable to watch as to listen to.

On their newest record, Let Me Come Home, the lead vocalist sometimes sounds a  bit like Brandon Flowers from the Killers. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, and I was glad that his Scottish tones came to the fore in the live setting. They played a good spread of songs from their two albums and held the attention of the crowd most of the time, even during the few quieter, slower tunes they played. (Of course the ever-present Amsterdam gig-chatterers were there – they can almost never be silenced.)

Freelance Whales were slightly less impressive overall, but still very good at times. To my ears their sound was a bit thin and disjointed a lot of the time; only when they had three or four voices singing and all five band members playing their instruments did things really take off. I think there was something not quite right with the vocal mics early on which meant the lead vocal got a bit lost.

They have some good catchy songs, even if the lyrics sometimes come across a bit teenager-trying-to-be-deep-and-meaningful-y. The glockenspiel appears in almost every song and it gets a bit annoying after a while. But when they had five voices harmonising over an unusual rhythm, with banjo arpeggios sitting on a funky synthesizer riff, it did sound really good. I think I’ll enjoy listening to the album more having seen them live.

Here’s some Broken Records live…this gives a pretty good indication of how they sounded.