Friends / AlunaGeorge @ The Thekla, Bristol 14.05.12

AlunaGeorge greet the rain-soaked few that have arrived early enough to see them open the show. Seedy keys from George Reid rip apart the silence inside the desolate Thekla, and as the bass-driven synthpop starts, the crowd soon emerges from every nook and cranny. They play glamorous electro R&B, with smooth-as-silk vocals from snake-hipped singer, Aluna Francis. Unabashedly hip, the duo (backed by tour musicians) lift elements from every corner of the Zeitgeist. Meshing electronica-infused samples, funk basslines and drum 'n' bass percussion, they create an electric buzz onstage. Cat calls and wolf whistles emanate from the crowd as Aluna strips down to entirely inappropriate attire for the hurricane raging in Bristol - hotpants and an exposed midriff. The throbbing 'You Know You Like It' from their upcoming EP brings out the confidence within the pair - they know they're good - and the calm smirks prove it. For an opening act, they own the room oozing pure charm, passion and banging out solid tunes. The unflappable voice of Aluna backed by the choppy, raucous synths from George back up the cocksure pair, whose fledgling (and well-deserved) ego will do them well in this cutthroat industry.

May 14th, 2012 at The Thekla, Bristol / By Larry Day
Friends Friends saunter onstage early, the Brooklyn collective strapping on basses and standing reading at the veritable orchestra of percussion instruments. There are two pairs of bongos. Adorned in gold sequins and leather, lead singer Samantha Urbani caterwauls through the opener, a low-tempo psychfunk slice of bliss. Focused on rhythmic experimentation, the set is dominated by spaced-out vocals bouncing around the room like a child on blue Smarties, and an expansive palette of percussive thwackings. Their eclectic mix of samba and indie-funk washes over the audience, who shuffle awkwardly, half shivering with dampness and half attempting to groove along to the musical gold in front of them. At times the band seem to confuse the crowd, who are unable to really make heads or tails of the sounds, the band or Urbani, with her insane eyebrows or the picture of herself on her forehead. Meta. Friends are, as most bands are when gracing the Thekla, fascinated by the fact they are on a boat - even going as far as to start singing The Lonely Island's smash hit 'I’m On A Boat'.

Celestial vocals and an impeccable bongo breakdown are highlights from 'Mind Control' - Radio 1's 'hottest record in the world' over Easter - with it's cheesy nineties synth lead, it's definitely one of the more accessible tracks in the set. 'I’m His Girl', dripping cool, brings the glitz of underground NYC clubs to dreary Bristol - the huddled mass watching Friends finally let loose. It's refreshing to see a band have the chutzpah to do something completely new with their music, instead of rigidly settling into prescribed conventions of how a band should 'look' and 'sound'.

The show feels like something from Rio's Carnivàle with the arsenal of calypso riffs and samba beats - though everything is laced with a swamp of reverb - and Friends convey the berserk tropicality of a drug-addled lemur. There's a clear reason this group have acquired so many accolades - they are doing something decisively different, and the result leaves you catatonic in a state of perplexed awe.