Les bon Mots

Kristina Ooi 27 November 2008

Let’s get this party started…staaaaar¬rrrrrrted,” a mechanical, robotic voice drawls across the dark confines of the Junction before Fyfe Dangerfield (the perfect name for a frontman if ever I saw one) and his motley crew of Guillemots take to the stage, bursting straight into their recent hit ‘Get Over It’. For the informa¬tion of fans of their Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Through The Windowpane, this is not the Guil¬lemots of old. Fyfe thrashes around in his suit and dark aviators like a drugged up Jamie Cullum to his band’s fairly standard but weirdly catchy chord progressions and melodies. Fyfe’s energy is somewhat lost on the stationary, distinctly middle-aged crowd. “Cambridge; man, you’re subdued tonight!” comments Dangerfield, which immediately prompts a sea of cheers and screams, the audience deter¬mined to prove him wrong. And they do themselves justice; earlier hit ‘Made Up Lovesong #43′ is met with a buzzy warmth of recogni¬tion, sounding even more fantastic on stage than on record.

The depth of talent in this band is formidable. Two drum kits, a dou¬ble bass, an organ and several guitar changes, not to mention piano playing worthy of any ballroom, all meld to create rich oceans of noise. Dangerfield is also a master of entertaining onstage banter, serenading a lucky member of the audience with an impromptu ode to the Wolf Whistling Girl. Guillemots certainly excel in their slower, more emotive tracks such as rare demo ‘Sea Out’ and ‘Standing on the Last Star’, which showcases a lonesome Dangerfield on solo vocals and acoustic (left-handed) guitar. There is barely a whisper in the crowd as he pours out his heart on this “song about the end of the world”, the silence filling the venue as strongly as their more epic offerings. Newer tracks from their sophomore effort Red are certainly more upbeat but are ultimately forgettable, except per¬haps ‘Kriss Kross’, its Viking beats and sense of grandeur making you want to grab your chain mail and run into battle.

The band’s best known track, ‘Trains to Brazil’, a nod to guitarist MC Lord Magrão’s Brazilian heritage ,comes second to last; the sounds of children in the playground pro¬vide an unlikely backing to this, one of my all-time favourite songs. “I hope you all dance like idiots to this one, cos that’s the only way I know how,” muses Dangerfield, and we obey; for the first time, the crowd seems to have life beyond a tapping foot or slightly nodding head. Double bassist Aristazabal Hawkes (you don’t see that in the Big Book Of Baby Names often, eh?) provides singalong riffs to complement the horn and brass arrange¬ments, an inventive live addition to an already legendary song.

Then comes the larger-than-life mini-opera ‘Sao Paolo’. Weighing in at over eleven minutes, this song merits a review all of its own. Where to begin? The haunting pi¬ano melodies? The appearance of every roadie on the tour with some form of percussion ranging from a dustbin lid to what looked like a bedpan? The Christmas chimes tolling pure joy? The restless lyrics, telling of being “thrown across the water like a stone”? The climax of instruments, light and seemingly infinite passion and energy is a sight to behold, and the audience is enthralled. This is where the end of their set should be. But it isn’t. The arena remains dark; the audience chant for more. I can’t take it.

I break away from the Junction as the band return for their encore; for me, ‘Sao Paolo’ is the best end to a live set that an artist could hope for, and anything more would have ruined it. For one of the best shows I’ve ever been to in Cambridge: Fyfe and crew, I salute you.

Kristina Ooi