Live Review

White Lies, 9:30 Club, Washington DC

Intense? Yes. Emotional? Yes. Enjoyable? Yes.

White Lies hold court at Washington’s famed 9:30 Club, playing to a crowd that appears aged 5 to 50 (it’s Friday and 9:30 Club shows are all ages, so many parents are present with their sprogs in tow.). It’s the London trio’s second visit to the Nation’s Capital, following on from their 2009 appearance at the Black Cat just a couple blocks away, coheadlining an ‘NME Presents’ tour with Friendly Fires. The band have come a long way from ‘To Lose My Life…’, and this is most evident in their intense and confident live set showcasing favourites new and old.

Gone from 2009 are the t-shirts and jeans; enter smart dress shirts and suits. The set opener, ‘A Place to Hide’, a song about the end of the world, is perfectly timed to the rapture predicted to occur the next day. This coincidence is probably lost on the punters, who are quickly mesmerised by the spectacle in front of them. Despite singing songs that admittedly are heart heavy, lead vocalist / guitarist Harry McVeigh is poised and grinning throughout, obviously enjoying the performance.

‘Streetlights’ is a very depressing song on record, with its words ‘no time for heartbreak / buckle up for loneliness’. The shortcoming of the recording is that the song is so very bleak, the more unhinged of us might want to slit our wrists to it. However, when performed live, it’s a masterpiece. McVeigh’s voice is charged with so much emotion that it’s impossible not to get chills down your spine when he sings plaintively, ‘can anybody hear me? / is there anybody out there? / not a soul in a streetlight / this might be love’.

Just because White Lies’ preferred choice of subject matter is dark doesn’t mean you can’t dance to it. ‘Holy Ghost’, following the lead of the Police’s ‘Roxanne’ in its account of a prostitute, has a down and dirty vibe. The song owes its sensuality chiefly to the bass lines of Charles Cave, whose fingertips tiptoe across the four strings of his Gretsch effortlessly. Older songs ‘To Lose My Life’, ‘Farewell To The Fairground’ and ‘Death’ are accompanied by audience pogo-ing and fist-pumping, a reaction proving the strength of the band’s connection with the audience’s hearts and minds. The slow and slinky jam of ‘Peace And Quiet’ is the ideal counterpoint to the more overt alt-dance songs, showing off each individual’s skill, including touring bandmates Tommy Bowen (keyboards) and Rob Lee (guitars / keyboards).

It should be noted that probably the hardest-working man on the stage is drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown, who pounds so furiously on his kit that the mic hung above his head continuously bounces around haphazardly. The show ends with recent melancholic anthem ‘Bigger Than Us’. As the band’s last parting blow, everyone’s hearts are both heavy, yet warm. Intense? Yes. Emotional? Yes. Enjoyable? Yes. White Lies live tick off all the boxes.

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