Concert Review: Admiral Fallow at Berklee Cafe 939 in Boston, MA
I can’t pinpoint what led me to the discovery of Admiral Fallow back in 2010, but I’m pretty certain it had something to do with my coinciding Frightened Rabbit love affair – once you’ve drank the Scottish Indie Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back. While both bands feature front-Scotsmen, Admiral Fallow’s first album, Boots Met My Face, has always struck me as viscerally more cautious and melancholy. The record’s dense pace, eerie male/female harmonies, and pensive lyrical content keep it beautifully wistful, and the featured clarinet certainly contributes to the weightiness. I realize that makes the album sound like kind of a downer, but it breathes through finger-picked guitar, crisp drums, and uplifting flute lines, balancing the record’s overall tone. I’ve spent a few years now intermittently ensuring their first album receives airtime on my home speakers, and nearly plotzed when I saw not only were they coming to town, but I’d have the rare good fortune to see this band I already adored at Berklee’s Café 939, a teeny-tiny college venue I’d been meaning to check out anyhow.
The space was intimate, the modest-but-significant crowd was young and engaged, the sound quality was stellar, and the entire evening felt extremely personal. The Kool-Aid has aged into a fine wine, and lead singer/song-writer Louis Abbott’s songs have matured to strike a confident balance between heartfelt and poppy in 2012’s Tree Bursts in Snow. While I was most nostalgic for the band’s first album songs, the handful of people whispering lyrics generally seemed more familiar with Admiral Fallow’s newer material, save for perhaps “Squealing Pigs,” the band’s original single. Either way, I thought they balanced the two albums neatly, playing exactly half of their set from each release.
The most impressive performances of the night were pretty evenly divided between both records, too. From the new album I especially enjoyed the current single, “Guest of the Government,” a dynamically executed tune about a Glasgow bar, and I really liked the enhanced percussion at the end of “Brother.” From the first album perhaps the most uniquely personal moment of the night was when all six band members lined the front of the stage to give a totally acoustic version of the haunting “Four Bulbs,” though set closer “Squealing Pigs” was definitely the all-around crowd fave. The encore probably summed the night (and their discography) up best with “Old Balloons,” a song that began timidly and ended as potently as any song offered in their catalogue.
Abbott was amusingly crass with his banter through the night, noting that when he pointed to guitarist Stu Goodall and gave the thumb-index-finger gesture indicating “just a tiny bit” that he was talking about getting more guitar in the monitor, and was not commenting on any “size” behind Goodall’s guitar. He also made sure to pimp out his clarinetist, Kevin Brolly, claiming him “young, free, single, and sexually active.” While I didn’t necessarily expect to hear much from drummer Philip Hague or bassist Joe Rattray, I was kind of surprised that flautist/pianist/keyboardist/accordionist and the sole female holding down the harmonies, Sarah Hayes, was pretty silent with banter. I was kind of curious to hear if she would share the same sort of Scottish edge as Abbott, but she demurely left the banter to her chattier counterpart.
Abbott closed the night teasing, “hopefully we’ll be back…if they install a bar!” Indeed, as nice as it was to have seen them in such a small venue, Abbott mentioned a few times that they’d been playing to pretty sparse audiences during their tour. I think they’d do better touring with a more established band in the US, pairing up to fill venues like the Paradise or the Middle East. All they need is an audience present to be charmed – if their music is captivating enough that they can get even a totally sober crowd dancing and singing along, I can only imagine how well they’d be received by a full house (with or without pints in hand). As lucky as I feel to have seen them in such a snug space where I (and the rest of the audience) was practically onstage with the band, I’m finally ready to unleash the Admiral Fallow secret and stop hiding them from the rest of you. You’re welcome.
Beetle in the Box
The Paper Trench
These Barren Years
Isn’t This World Enough??
Dead Against Smoking
Guest of the Government
The Way You Were Raised