Fenech Soler are back, and out from under a rock (to paraphrase singer Ben) for their mini-tour: an intimate warm-up affair showcasing their new material prior to their second album, which we are promised for June. So new are some of the songs that Ben delightedly informs us we are the first people to hear some of them. Clearly an honour, judging by the response from the crowd crammed into the tiny gig room of Manchester’s Deaf Institute.
For those who might not have been to the Deaf Institute before, there’s a distinct feel of Victorian music-hall to the venue, housed as it is in an old Victorian social club. It’s all spruced up of course, but the attention to original features like the wooden balcony, chandelier, and velvet curtaining across the back of the stage make for a fascinating incongruity when faced with the amount of tech Fenech Soler have managed to cram onto the stage. This is a band that travels not only with their instruments but also with their own lighting, and somehow they’ve got a wall of vertical LED strip lights and a wall of LED spots nestled in front of the anachronistic velvet backdrop.
There’s no energy wasted on this show as they launch into ‘Demons’ with all the pent-up gusto you might expect from a band who haven’t played live for a while. Their joy is obvious and it rubs off onto the crowd straight away, the sprung floor bouncing enough to knock you off balance if for some reason you weren’t jumping with the rest. First new track of the evening is ‘Somebody’, and Ben quickly apologises for having lost his voice earlier in the day. There’s absolutely no hint of a problem as Ben’s voice soars proudly over the beats, spitting out his lyrics with raw feeling.
Fenech Soler’s strengths lie in their live performance, the band clearly find an exhilaration in playing live and in turn it’s exhilarating to watch them. But that’s not to say they’re always running at full pelt. ‘Fading’, another new track, is stripped back, Ben’s aching vocals going falsetto against a near-ballad backdrop from the rest of the band. ‘Last Forever’ too suggests that the next record is likely to be one of contrasts, with its heavy reliance on vocal melody over more leisurely-paced keys. And they don’t forget the lush and enveloping ‘Stonebridge’, the nearest thing to a ballad in Fenech Soler’s repertoire.
But the boys always come back to explosive beats and the chance to make full use of their travelling LED stash. ‘Maiyu’, currently streaming on the band’s site, begins dirty and mysterious, then bursts into house-tinged anthemic choruses, surely a festival crowd pleaser in the making. Recent single ‘All I Know’ gets the sing along treatment too, and fits right in with the boys’ collection of banging warehouse anthems. ‘Battlefields’ means business, Ben and the boys filling every inch of the already cramped stage with impassioned moves, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the moment. Set finale ‘Stop And Stare’ tops off the evening with no-holds-barred free-for-all as the band jam through the closing bars of the set, extending the joy for as long as possible. Refreshingly there is no faux-encore, just genuine heartfelt thanks and excitement at being back on the road. Fenech Soler know how to entertain and the summer promises more of the same.
Words by Elly Oracle