As the 2022 live music scene picks up the pace, Caradoc Gayer shares his thoughts on Fickle Friends' take on Nottingham's Bodega.
On a Thursday night, I went to see Fickle Friends play live. I’d seen them once before: when my dad and I caught the latter half of their Reading Festival show in 2016. I was fourteen at the time and the acts at that festival, especially Fickle Friends, more or less kickstarted my love of live music. As a result, this show felt as if I were rediscovering an aspect of myself which had been long forgotten. I’d like to imagine that this is also how Fickle Friends felt on that night. They were at the zenith of a tour that had followed a two-year break from live music, which is core to the band’s identity. Therefore, it was only too perfect that their excitement to play live again would be reciprocated by myself and other enthusiastic members of the pretty-packed-out crowd, who no doubt valued Fickle Friends’ music as much as, if not more than, I did. It was obvious that it would be nothing but good vibes all night.
''We’d had two highly talented, authentic and no-nonsense-indie acts, to ease us into the peak-indie-ness that was to come''
The venue had recently changed from Rescue Rooms to the Bodega, which seemed suitable to me. The close-quarters of the latter venue would allow for a better connection between performers and crowd. It was a perfect environment for the first support act, Bexx, who, as I learned from a guy standing next to me, hails from Nottingham. Her style of pop was not entirely my bag, but I couldn’t ignore her infectious enthusiasm as she belted out her high-energy songs. She was followed by Ellyse Mason, who performed some introverted, more-acoustic interpretations of her typically dancey songs. This was a suitable calm before the storm; certainly, both singers were well-chosen supports for Fickle Friends, amongst the array of acts accompanying the band on this tour. Thus far, we’d had two highly talented, authentic and no-nonsense-indie acts, to ease us into the peak-indie-ness that was to come.
Certainly, when Fickle Friends came onstage, the sincerity of their song-writing came through in their performance. They burst out the gate with IRL, in which Natti belted out her frustration at the cognitive dissonance of online dating, followed by further tracks from their recent second album. Although the emotional honesty of recently released songs such as Not Okay and Are We Gonna be Alright? was less effective upon crowd-members who were obviously unsure of what to expect from the band, this was made up for by Natti’s powerful vocal delivery and stage presence, and the enthusiasm of other crowd-members who danced in increasing disregard of the increasingly-packed-out room.
The dancing reached its peak during, what Natti termed, the rock section: despite the left-field nature of Yeah Yeah Yeah, and Write me a Song, in the context of the band’s discography, the audience showed no less love for them. The band-audience connection was certainly evident when one merry person screamed, well within the band’s earshot, that their friend loved Natti, who responded in kind. It’s great when an indie-pop band known for their DIY authenticity draws these anarchically authentic crowds to their shows.
Moreover, what can’t go unmentioned about the show was the instrumental virtuosity on display. The band have been honing their live skills since 2013, so I expected to see some highly practiced performers. However, their creativity, and the extent to which they knew their way around their gear, really took me aback, particularly during older tracks from their 2018 record You Are Someone Else. The frenetic bass playing of Harry Herrington carried the fan-favourite, Glue, into an extended outro, in which Jack Wilson and touring guitarist Jack Shepard went absolutely wild with their Nile-Rodgers-esque guitar parts. The summery synth chords in Say No More, sound bigger and better when they’re heard in person.
''Their creativity, and the extent to which they knew their way around their gear, really took me aback''
Towards the end of the set, Jack Wilson said from behind the keys ''Sorry we’re not playing Swim (inarguably their most iconic song) tonight'', only for them to immediately play the indie pop classic, and knock it out of the park. This was followed by an explosive performance of Pretty Great, a set highlight due to Jack Shepard’s effortless vocoder-solo, and Natti’s synth playing in the extended outro, finishing the show with a musical whirl of indie pop optimism that left me breathless.
As I watched the magic happen, amongst an audience with a suitable balance of the laidback and the enthusiastic, I felt pride for the band. They’d made a triumphant return to the environment where they thrive the most, playing a that show was no doubt cathartic for them after two years of pouring their hearts out into writing sessions. The show served as an exemplar for the importance of indie music in allowing for shows that establish unrivalled connection between audience and performer. Let’s hope that performances of this ilk will continue to be important in our lives, despite the damage the pandemic’s inflicted upon them.
Edited by: Amrit Virdi