White Lies have been away for three years since the release of their last album Big TV, they are back touring with their new album, Friends. Although a solid, well received album, Big TV did little to expand their fan base past the original promise of debut album To Lose My Life. Tonight will showcase a mixture of the retro pop perfection from these albums and standout songs from third album Rituals.
The crowd are a loyal bunch, who have clearly been eager for their return. The natural division of the venue into a terrace of seating and a standing ‘pit’ illustrates the difference between their two types of fan. Upstairs is the bald spot brigade, middle aged music enthusiasts who relate them to the bands of their youth.
On the ground floor are hip young things ready to sing their souls out to songs like, Unfinished Business with it’s gothic lyrical style and pared down pop sensibilities. Singer Harry McVeigh wails out the chorus with genuine passion, the crowd matching him in unison arms flung in the air, with such a rousing end to the song that it feels more like the climax of a set.
How to follow that? McVeigh speaks easily with the audience, “Here’s an older song that we haven’t played for a long time. We know it’s a real favourite of our fans” This simple statement speaks volumes, this is a set designed to be a crowd pleaser. Flame orange lights replace the monochrome bulbs, Jack Lawrence-Brown drums out a driving rhythm while Charles Cave plucks out notches on the bass for The Price of Love. At the chorus the house lights come up to show the crowd clap along in adoration. McVeigh has such a strong deep voice that the comparisons between his vocal style and Ian Curtis from Joy Division becomes clear, although with such beautiful sustained notes, it feels like an unfair comparison as McVeigh is clearly a more finessed vocalist.
White Lies have drawn endless comparisons since their debut, from Talking Heads to Franz Ferdinand (who are most frequently compared to Talking Heads as well)! This is understandable as they have a sound which is distinctly retro and 1980’s. They could be grouped in with a movement of bands who returned to dark, indie pop of the 80’s like Editors and The Bravery, thankfully White Lies have enough song craft and substance to create as meaningful a career as the former and to have not met with the pitfalls of style of the latter. That said each song played tonight draws an immediate and justifiable comparison with a classic artist.
In their super hit Farewell To The Fairground the vocals seem to drive the song harder than the chugging guitars, staggering drums and tinkling synth, which is a smart technique for making use of such a brilliant singer. During Morning in LA, which has more than a flavour of A-ha, the audience seem lost in their nostalgic memories. Next to me a woman actually sings into her phone as if singing not into a microphone, but into a hairbrush, in a state of reminiscent wish fulfilment.
McVeigh announces, “We’re gonna play one of my favourite songs from the record, Is My Love Enough.” The beams of synth, very much in the style of early OMD give the song some structure as the stage is cast is dazzling fuchsia lighting. The sheer 80’sness of this moment made it seem possible that Molly Ringwald would spontaneously manifest and start doing some prom dancing. By equal measure the melodramatic E.S.T. starts to sound a lot like Japan.
A surprising standout track of the night is Getting Even which is given a thoughtful stage treatment of zoetrope style flickering lights which give the figures on stage the impression of feigned movement, shaking and re-positioning in the flash and blink of the eye while a dreamy piano like synth snakes through the song. A quick transition and they’ve moved on to Julian Cope-esque Streetlights.
It takes very little to re-activate the crowd into clapping and full throated singing along to Cure-like song A Place to Hide. In such troubled times even simple lyrics such as these touch a nerve, “And I can see it on the TV, there’s an air attack / People of the mountains screaming I’ll be back / And I’m banging on your door so come on and let me in / Need a place to hide, I need a place to hide before the storm begins.”
Once more and perhaps a little too on the nose is the heartbeat intro and whining synth of Losing which could easily be the play out track of a Michael J. Fox movie. After this track, McVeigh addresses the audience again: “This show has been amazing for us, we’ve felt a lot of love on this tour.” He admits, “We’ve been away for three years which is a long time for a band.”
With only that brief moment of calm they launch into awesome song Death sending the crowd into a frenzy from the ground floor to the ceiling. Every voice crying out, “This fear’s got a hold on me!” The band increase the tempo, pounding through drum crescendos like funfair ride with the music a whizzing blur, never losing the delicacy of the song. Long held notes on the vocals slows the ride from a dizzying near whiplash to a calm stop and the band leave the stage.
They return to the stage for a three song encore including Big TV which could easily bring comparisons with Visage.
Yes, it is flippant to keep throwing sound-a-like comparisons at this band, but it is important to recognise the merit of what there have done with this sound. Their music is not a progression of the 80’s pop, rather a distillation of the very, very best techniques given a fresh passion and energy. This is elegant pop perfection with authenticity of feeling both in it’s content and it’s delivery. Gone are the disposable lyrics and obvious hooks, this band are really special and at their very best live.
The set finishes with another quick word from McVeigh, “We have one more song, we quickly want to thank our fans , this has been a wonderful way to start the tour. We’ve been White Lies, and this song is called Bigger Than Us.” This was beautiful, an anthem in the truest sense… and it kind of sounds like Depeche Mode.
Live review of White Lies@ Shepherd’s Bush Empire by Sarah Sievers on 22nd November 2016. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.
White Lies continue their tour with the following dates upcoming dates: –
Nov 29th O2 Institute, Birmingham
Dec 1st O2 Academy, Bristol
Feb 23rd O2 Academy, Newcastle
Feb 24th O2 Academy, Sheffield
Feb 25th O2 Academy, Oxford
Feb 28th O2 Academy, Lecicester
Mar 2nd Portsmouth Pyrimids, Portsmouth
Mar 3rd Hull University, Hull
Mar 4th Troxy, London
Mar 6th Guildhall, Preston
Mar 7th The Garage, Aberdeen
Mar 8th Potter Row, Edinburgh
Mar 12th Nick Ryan’s LCR UEA, Norwich
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate