Fat White Family played a stripped down acoustic set at Phase one for the launch of their new album, Getintothis’ Matthew Loughlin was there in the near sell out crowd.
To say that Fat White Family exist on the extremes would surprise few.
To date, theirs has been a story of notoriety, hedonism and excess that has nearly consistently been balanced by an unmatched integrity and artistic vision that has ensured they have never been pulled into pastiche and gimmick. Tales of their indulgences and propensity to “slip into something more dangerous” are weighted by their innovation and, lest we forget, knack for writing a tune or two.
To imagine the Fat White Family without some form of tension or pull between two dialectic truths would be to imagine a totally different band. Yin and the yang, light and the dark, cliché and the truth, you get the picture. In their world, the middle ground is essentially no-man’s land; only useful as the terrain you cross to reach the opposing side – if that means obliterating anything that dares cross your path, then so be it.
Tonight’s gig therefore, a stripped-back in-store affair, comes as a bit of shock to the system. The prospects of a meet-and-greet Fat White Family album signing session in the intimate settings of the Jacaranda Phase One initially makes as much sense as inviting Mark E Smith to come and cook your family Sunday roast; as exciting as it sounds, it’s utterly terrifying to predict what might happen.
As it turns out, the band are somewhat prepared for this, taking to the stage – seated – and asking for “deep silence” from the crowd. Fat White Family of Sound City 2014, this ain’t.
The line-up consists of, in the main, one acoustic guitar, keyboard (doubling up as percussion), bass/flute and vocals and to open the show, we are treated to ‘Oh Sebastian’ from recent album ‘Serf’s Up’, incorporating the melody of the main theme from ‘Peter and the Wolf’. Reduced to its core, the song highlights exactly what it is that separates Fat White Family from other bands that have dabbled in notoriety, in that they have at their disposal the ability to write songs that can be shocking and controversial without feeling the need to stray into tiresome cliché and pomp.
Not that shocking is something to be avoided (imagine a world without The Stooges for instance), but unless a band has the talent and substance to back it up, they are soon little more than tabloid fodder and material for weary anecdotes.
Handily, the Fat Whites have substance by the bucket load, as clearly illustrated in the following one-two of ‘Rock Fishes’ and ‘Touch the Leather’, which sound much filthier than any acoustic set has any right to and are undeniably cleverer than most of their contemporaries.
It’s not soon after this however that the gig begins to feel a bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The respectful hush of the crowd soon turns into mindless chatter, which further develops into noisy babble and before long, it’s hard to hear Lias Saoudi’s hushed vocals above a restless crowd.
Granted, songs like ‘I am Mark E Smith’ don’t wholly work with a flute as its lead instrument, and no, a Fat White Family gig has never been the opportunity to stroke your chin, but it’s not hard to feel that the songs, and indeed the band, deserve better.
There are moments, such as ‘Tastes Better with the Money’ where things are back on track and the crowd essentially shuts up or sings along, but during songs such as ‘Bobby’s Boyfriend’, which to paraphrase Miles Davis sound stronger the quieter they are played, and the noise spills over, it does feel like folk are there hoping for something explosive to happen on stage, to recount to folk via social media, or to say they were there.
This is something clearly not gone unnoticed by the band, who (admittedly in between trying to score narcotics from the crowd) ask at one point if the sound tech can “mute the crowd”, which is a shame and more than a little embarrassing and there is a sense, mid-set that the energy is lagging and indeed, one of the many highlights of ‘Serf’s Up’, opening track ‘Feet’ is nearly ruined by heckling and a handbags-at-dawn standoff near the front, which drowns out the haunting whispers of the song.
Towards the end of the set however, spirits are lifted and events are brought to a chaotic and rapturous close with a raucous ‘Is it Raining in your Mouth?’, which features an audience member clambering on stage to join in on keyboards and a mass singalong of ‘Borderline’, which does restore the atmosphere in the room, belying the fact there are only four of the Fat White Family onstage.
All in all, tonight is by no means a failure and there are many clear moments of brilliance, however it’s not hard to come away from tonight feeling that the Fat White Family aren’t a band designed for in-store acoustic gigs.
And that is no criticism; Lias Saoudi informs us before leaving the stage “this is the last of our seven-day acoustic tour and it’s been fucking hardcore” which says it all really, doesn’t it; who else would have a hardcore acoustic in-store tour?
A band right at the extremes, that’s who. Maybe we were just in no-man’s land tonight. Long live the Fat Whites.
Images by Getintothis’ Lucy McLachlan