Brooklyn based indie band ‘Friends’ made a lot of waves in 2011, with singles ‘Friend Crush’ and ‘I’m His Girl’, causing a bidding frenzy for their first EP and giving the group a prominent spot on many year end ‘artists to watch’ lists. While we haven’t heard much from them in 2012, they certainly made a splash during last night’s Encore Live Sessions at the super hot Le Baron club/lounge hybrid in Chinatown.

Encore Live has been throwing these showcases for up and coming bands every other Monday at Le Baron, filming them for future distribution on Youtube and Facebook. This event may have been their moist popular yet – a large line extended down the block outside the club, where many a hipster could be heard complaining about RSVPs and ‘secret passwords’ that had all become moot – the club had reached capacity and many fans were sent home. The guys at Encore did anticipate this, pleading with fans to come earlier than the 10pm show time.

When the band, featuring lead singer Samantha Urbani and bassist Lesley Hann in front, finally took the stage amidst a cloud of smoke, the few fans who made it inside were treated to a short but very sweet taste of this extremely unique and talented group. With a name like ‘Friends’ and two females taking lead positions on stage, there is a lot of potential for the band to fall into stereotypical sounds of either feminist indy music or bubblegum pop, but Friends manages to create their own sound and style that certainly has a place in todays musical landscape.

Lead singer Samantha Urbani’s vocals are clearly the main attraction here, sounding like a mix of Gwen Stefani and Santigold, with some retro R&B stylings mixed in. While the description may sound hyperbolic and awkward, it’s the only I can put her voice into words, and it fits perfectly within the bands musical style. At times, they have a very new wave, almost The Cure like sound in their synths, while other times they sound more like soulful R&B and old school hip hop vehicles for Urbani’s vocals. At other times, particularly when Leslie Hann trades the bass for the wood blocks and the tempo gets raised a bit, they sound more like the traditional New York indie band.

As I mentioned before, Urbani is the clear star here. She commands the entire room at every moment, engaging the crowd in front of the stage, and later walking up the stairs and performing a song atop the balcony. It’s hard to take your eyes off her for even a moment throughout her performance. This is in stark contrast to Hann, who strums her bass guitar so effortlessly you forget she is responsible for some of the bass lines that really make up ‘Friends’ entire sound.

Overall, Friends put on a short but fantastic show. They debuted some new material, but didn’t stray far from their well known commodities like ‘I’m His Girl’, ‘Friend Crush’, and an awesome cover of Ghost Town DJ’s 1996 hit ‘My Boo’. There unique sound and Urbani’s superstar-like stage presence makes it easy to understand the critical fascination with this band, and it would not surprise me if they ended up making a mainstream splash in 2012.

-Justin Charles