When I last saw White Lies back in 2011 on the heels of Rituals, I commended them on a spectacular sounding live show. The band sounded fantastic, lively, and polished. But there was also a problem two years ago: they were stiff and lacking stage presence, creating a noticeable disconnect between them and their audience. While I’m not saying they took my review to heart, I’m certainly delighted that they’ve worked out those kinks. It really does make a difference.
The English three-piece (who perform with two additional members in concert) kicked off their Big TV world tour in Toronto on Tuesday night. Released in August, the band’s third album has been regarded as a return to form, rivaling the post-punk peaks of their 2009 debut To Lose My Life… Their set lifted heavily from these two albums, with only a handful of tracks coming off of 2011’s Rituals.
And here’s the thing: the band – or at least vocalist and guitarist Harry McVeigh, who did most of the talking – seemed genuinely happy. Grinning, even. McVeigh spent a lot of time centre stage, showing off those pearly whites and egging the crowd on for songs like “Farewell to the Fairground” and “Streetlights”. To the audience’s credit, they obliged – cheering on new songs and singing along loudly to the older favourites. There was a lot of White Lies love in the fairly packed, sweltering Opera House.
Their fourth song – and Big TV’s first single, “There Goes Our Love Again” – had the band (including bassist Charles Cave and drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown) showing off ringing keys as McVeigh belted out his impressive deep voice. Vocally, McVeigh’s is the type that can carry an entire show. It’s that big.
Not that the rest of the band needed any help though. The synths were in full effect for the start of “Streetlight”, which sounded about as 80s as they come, while “E.S.T.” was bolstered by an ominous, haunting beat from Lawrence-Brown as McVeigh gazed out at the crowd. On “The Power & the Glory”, it was Cave that jumped in on electronics, adding in a much needed synth line to the song’s chorus.
“We’ve played this song so many times and we still manage to f*** it up,” said McVeigh prior to Big TV’s “Be Your Man”. He pointed out that in front of him was a page of printed lyrics for the song – but it seemed to go off without a hitch. “Unfinished Business”, meanwhile, was introduced by McVeigh as the very first White Lies song and one they seemed much more at ease with.
Other highlights came with the next Big TV single – “First Time Caller”. It’s a bass-heavy song that sees McVeigh extending his words and filling up a lot of space. “Death”, the leadoff track on their debut, was also massive, picking up steam as it rolled along and receiving much fanfare from the audience. It put the kick drum to work and showed off one of the best bridges in pop music with the line: “I live on the right side but sleep on the left / That’s why everything has got to be love or death.” It’s the type of driving track that would have been an advertiser’s dream – save for that whole death/fear thing.
The overwhelming sense I got was that the band seems to appreciate where they are right now. It shows in their music and in their on-stage attitude. They’re happy. So, though the tunes may centre on more pessimistic themes and lean toward the darker side of the Brit-rock spectrum thanks to McVeigh’s deep voice – there’s a sense of optimism and, dare I say, an uplifting feel. Because let’s face it: White Lies write big, ambitious songs. It’s something they deliver on too, particularly in a live capacity.
There are times when you forget how much you like a band. There are other times when you forget just how good a band is. Occasionally, it’s a combination of both. So remind me, next time, that White Lies really are fantastic live – and they’re worth paying attention to.
To Lose My Life
There Goes Our Love Again
Place to Hide
Farewell to the Fairground
Be Your Man
The Power & the Glory
First Time Caller
Bigger than Us