Tropical bliss pop under the Camden sunset
Friends - Live At Dingwalls, London

Enter “Friends” into Google and you’re more likely to strike upon a popular sitcom from New York rather than a five-piece band hailing from Brooklyn. “We were named after the Beach Boys man!”, “Yeah, whatever!” But despite rejecting all modern methods of Search Engine Optimisation, Friends have created quite the buzz following the infectious ‘I’m His Girl’ released at the end of 2011. Tonight, they are celebrating the release of their album, ‘Manifest!’ after several recent performances in the capital including Field Day and Rough Trade, where, incidentally, they are record of the week.

Arriving on stage to Justice’s ‘Phantom II’ which they allow to finish, Friends looks like a band that’s in the mood to party. No more so than singer, Samantha Urbani, sporting ripped denim, a leather jacket and “Ice-T” cap over braids. Hugging and dancing with her fans, it’s a look fitting with the fusion of R&B, bubblegum pop blended with punk funk reminiscent of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

“C’mon and dance, that’s the only time I’ll tell you,” Urbani laughs as the band break into the sensual ‘Friend Crush’. But actions speak louder than words and it isn’t long before she is moving into the crowd, unwittingly clambering up to the men’s loos and winding her way to the old fella at the back, nonplussed as Urbani wraps herself around him, cooing in his ear. As he gets back to supping his Guinness, she’s back on stage grooving and dancing to the rest of the band who, apart from shuffling between the instruments they share, remain fixed to the spot.

Sound issues at Field Day had been reported with Urbani criticising the vocals as dry but tonight they are full of reverb and delay, supporting the percussion. This is a little over the top for ‘Ruins’ where she shrieks, wails and breathes heavily into the microphone over the heavy bass and screeching guitars which takes the gig off into a post-punk direction. Urbani’s vocals are at times sublime, weaving between the high and low notes and it’s a little disappointing that the effects put on the mic take precedence.

Her harmonies with bassist Lesley Hann, however, are especially good for Ghosttown DJ’s 1996 classic ‘Boo’, a slower sultry interpretation that stands out as a set favourite as the couples swoon and sway to the Camden sunset. This is followed by the percussion heavy, tropical sounding ‘Sorry’ which gets a more favourable reaction as Urbani re-joins the crowd to dance with the group of girls congregated at the front. Acknowledging the demographic, ‘I’m His Girl’ is devoted to the young girls in the crowd who are taught the important lessons of independence and trust in the lyrics, “I’m the one he loves and trusts/He goes out on the town I don’t get jealous”.

With a flamboyant singer and catchy songs to boot, ‘Manifest!’ will certainly be an album for the summer but with a forced performance, Brooklyn chic might not be as effortless as it seems.

Words by Andrew Darby
Photos by Rosie Wadey

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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