It’s sort of impossible to review Freelance Whales without addressing that Pitchfork review. Sorry, kids, but Ian Cohen’s description is just way too spot-on: “Freelance Whales are a far cry from the unforgivable Owl City, but it’s kind of amazing this Nick & Norah-core is both surviving and thriving.”
But that criticism comes from a review of the band’s debut album, Weathervanes. And while I, too, find their CD sickeningly sweet, they’re so freaking adorable live that Wednesday night’s show at Jensen’s Mainstage ended up being an endearing display of summery optimism and DIY attitude.
On record, these silly New Yorkers sound like some sort of Ben Gibbard-produced indie version of High School Musical — and not the good stuff, the bad tracks, like that song Vanessa and Zac sing in front of the tree house. Mostly it seems like frontman Judah Dadone got his friends together and said, “Hey, fellow band geeks, let’s make an album. I wanna impress this chick and take her to prom.”
But, live, looking like some sort of Urban Outfitters print ad come to life, they are entertaining to watch. Maybe it was a serendipitous sound mishap, but the noise at Jensen’s somehow downplayed the album’s too squeaky clean production, too Super Mario-sounding keyboards, and too kitschy watering can. (That’s right; they play the watering can.) The bassist’s reverb was pleasantly allowed to overpower the childish xylophone and Dadone’s signature whine. The guitarist’s fun little power chords were allowed to wander freely. Their better stuff even captured the excitement of being a kid in New York, kind of like Matt & Kim.
Or maybe the openers just put me in a really good mood. If Freelance Whales is Nick & Norah, then Watercolor Paintings is Juno, or more specifically, the Moldy Peaches.
With the audience sitting quietly on the floor, locals (and siblings) Joshua and Rebecca Redman organically created lovely rhythms and beats with their voices and bodies via timed pauses, finger snapping, and tap-tapping against (his) acoustic guitar and (her) harp. That whole sitting on the floor thing might sound more appropriate for a pre-school sing along, but when you’ve got a duo singing about bright stars and wanting to go exploring, it works. Rebecca sounds like Regina Spektor and does most of the singing, though on one track Josh came in with some Neutral Milk Hotel-inspired a cappella brass, which was “not supposed to be funny,” but was, like the rest of their too-short, completely adorable set.