Review: White Lies @ 9:30 Club
London band, White Lies made their return to the United States with a confident, triumphant set at 9:30 Club last week. The group last toured on American soil 3 years ago and chose DC as the re-entry point to the American music scene for their stadium-scale synth-rock that is at times both brightly energetic and darkly brooding. The band was greeted by a crowd at 9:30 Club that was enthusiastic for the band’s return and knowledgeable about their body of work. The result was a highly entertaining show from a group that is constantly evolving but remains self-assured in their sound.
White Lies was formed in 2007 and were perhaps best known as the band most likely to replace Joy Division as the gloom-rock band of record. Frontman Harry McVeigh possesses an Ian Curtis-esque baritone rumble and the lyrics from their first album “…To Lose My Life” often steered toward themes like death and dying. The title track boasts a catchy, sing-along chorus that instructs, “Let’s grow old together, and die at the same time.” The gloomy lyrics, though, belie the band’s greatest strength, which is to fill up a room with thrilling choruses and climaxes that are driven by the strength of McVeigh’s impressive voice. The setlist drew heavily from this first album (eight out of fifteen songs), but the performances of these songs have been updated with the band. Live staples such as “Farewell to the Fairground” and “Unfinished Business” were written and released during the band’s somber period but seem to take on a more positive outlook when performed live now (as long as you don’t focus on the lyrics). Even “Death”, the standout track from the first album that includes the lyrics “As I’m crying, so frightened of dying, relax yes I’m trying,” felt like an exultant rallying call as the crowd shouted along to the repeated climactic closing line “Fear’s got a hold on me!”
This tour is the group’s first in the US since they released their fourth studio album, “Friends,” in 2016. Their most recent effort continued the trend from 2013’s “Big TV” for the band to favor a brighter, almost poppy sound. Tracks such as the album and set opener “Take It Out On Me” leave behind the despair of their debut release and lean into the synth-pop sound that underscored their earliest tracks. “Hold Back Your Love” and “Don’t Want to Feel At All” fully embrace the 80s nostalgia sound and utilize the higher end of their synths and McVeigh’s range. McVeigh called “Is My Love Enough?” “one of the strangest songs we’ve ever made” and admitted to wanting to create a song that people could dance to.
There should be concern about how two seemingly disparate styles of music can come together to form a cohesive show. The answer, apparently, is strobe lights. One element that is consistent throughout the band’s work is drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown’s persistent snare and high hat that punctuate all of their best songs. The live set featured penetrating lights that followed Lawrence-Brown’s rhythms and exploded into concentrated strobes during the most exciting (and fast) parts of the song. The result was a (slightly overwhelming) all-encompassing experience as McVeigh steered the songs’ crescendos to their peak. While the themes of their music have changed, White Lies has maintained their appreciation for spectacle.
The band seemed to connect well with the crowd in their first trip to the US in 3 years and made it a special experience for the fans in attendance. They played “The Price of Love” for the “first time in 6 or 7 years” according to the band and added in “E.S.T.,” a deeper track from “To Lose My Life,” to the encore after bassist Charles Cave suggested the crowd would appreciate it. After an extended break from touring in the states, White Lies started their tour off with aplomb and continued to meld their older and newer tunes into a polished show that was entertaining from start to finish. “Most British bands would agree that it’s nerve-wracking to tour in the states,” McVeigh declared before the final song of the main set, “So we’re just happy you’re all here. We’re dedicating this song to you.” The song, fittingly, was “Death.”
Written by Ben Earley
Keep up with White Lies at the links below.