Brainy, entertaining rock from Fanfarlo

Borrowing its moniker from 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire, lyrics from eccentric historical figures like Howard Hughes and Harold T. Wilkins, and orchestrated sound from instruments such as saws, cellos, clarinets and melodicas, the U.K. quintet Fanfarlo may be the most erudite outfit in modern rock. The band’s debut recording, “Reservoir,” revolves around vocals by frontman Simon Balthazar.

You were recently drawn in the New Yorker. Was this a lifelong ambition? Yes! It’s a legendary magazine and it’s a real honor to have your cartoon drawn in there. It’s such a quality publication, and I’d read it occasionally before. But I really started reading it when we were recording “Reservoir” in Connecticut a year ago. I bought a copy of our issue at the airport, but I’ve already lost it — I need to get hold of another one soon!

Do you think you might have fit in at Dorothy Parker’s Algonquin Round Table? I wouldn’t think so. We’re firmly rooted in the here and now. But we do spend a lot of time thinking about the past.

When did you first get into books? I used to read an incredible amount, probably more than I ever did, when I was little. I was living in a small, isolated village in Sweden, and there were very few kids my age but a lot of books in my house. So I’d be devouring and rereading terrible boys’ adventure books, with only an occasional interesting book. So then I started reading everything I could find at the local library.

What books have made the biggest impressions? A real favorite of mine was “The Master and Margarita” by Bulgakov. And I just read this really great biography of Houdini that documented his whole interest in spiritualism. It was that weird cross-section of history between all these amazing inventions coming out and the decline of religion.

Didn’t you use an escape artist, Roslyn Walker, in your video for “The Walls Are Coming Down”? Yeah. He does a legendary Houdini straitjacket escape in it, and we asked him before the video shoot, “How long can you hang upside down?” He said about four-and-a-half minutes, and our song was four minutes and 15 seconds. But we had to do a few takes to make sure we got a good one, so he had to perform that taxing escape four times in one day. He was literally bleeding out of his armpits after the third take.

IF YOU GO
Fanfarlo
Presented by Popscene

Where: The Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $12 to $13
Contact: www.rickshawstop.com

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