It was a bit of a surprise to have England’s White Lies back in Toronto quite so soon, but a welcome one as the trio stopped in for another round of their Big TV world tour. Fans packed The Mod Club and seemed more than happy to brave the cold winter weather to once again greet the London act.
Back in October, the post-punk band played The Opera House in support of their third album. Then, the material from Big TV was still relatively fresh and unfamiliar. Their return to the city on Thursday night showed an elevated level of confidence: undoubtedly abetted by extensive touring over the past few months.
The trio (who perform in concert as a five-piece with additional members Tommy Bowen and Rob Lee,) started in familiar territory with “To Lose My Life,” the title track off of their well-received debut. From the outset you could tell the intimacy of the venue would lend itself to the night’s atmosphere, the crowd singing along eagerly. That was probably the most noticeable thing about the evening: the atmosphere in the venue itself seemed extremely casual. The band was relaxed on stage (almost to a fault: they weren’t quite as refined as usual,) and vocalist/guitarist Harry McVeigh seemed to be in excellent spirits, smiling at the crowd and encouraging them on.
McVeigh’s voice is one to hear live – a highlight during numbers such as “E.S.T.” and the somber start to “Unfinished Business,” introduced as the first White Lies song the band ever wrote.
They also write the type of songs that are easy to sing along to thanks to McVeigh’s huge, soaring vocals. The aforementioned “To Lose My Life” was a big one, as was “Streetlights,” one of only three showings from 2011’s Rituals. White Lies are also very good at building up a sort of dark, brooding momentum. Both “First Time Caller” and “Farewell to the Fairground” showed off Charles Cave’s work on bass. On the latter, the lights in the venue flashed as the band built up to a huge bridge where everything but McVeigh’s guitar dropped off before the drums from Jack Lawrence-Brown came in like rolling thunder.
Fans looking for radical changes in the setlist between the Opera House and Mod Club shows would leave slightly disappointed. Outside of dropping Big TV’s “Getting Even” further down in the set (a smart move, given how forced it sounded) and adding album closer “Goldmine” and a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U,” the two were near mirror images. But to White Lies’ credit – it didn’t seem like they were just going through the motions and playing another set with the same songs. They were present, engaged, and enjoying themselves.
The Prince track was fun and clearly a step outside of the box for them. McVeigh switched his guitar for a synth and Lawrence-Brown hopped on a xylophone for the number – a backing percussion track filling in the gaps. It was about as groovy as a bunch of white English guys can get, to be fair, but it was definitely different and a nice way to vary things up.
“Death,” another from their 2009 debut, was massive. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the bridge on that song is one of the best ever written. The way it just plays is perfection.) They finished the main portion of their 15-song set with it, returning shortly after for two additional songs.
Wavering synths ushered in Big TV’s titular track, the audience again jumping their clapping cue and also cheering on McVeigh’s impressive vocal solo. White Lies ended with “Bigger Than Us,” another one of their songs with a chorus that just begs to be belted out.
“We’re so far away from home. It’s so great to see you all here,” said McVeigh nearing the end of the show. It was surprising to have them back so soon and surprising that a band that writes songs this huge is still seemingly taken aback about finding an audience for them. They’re allowed to be surprised though: it’s endearing as long as it’s genuine. And right now it seems that White Lies are genuinely happy about where they are as a band – and this is what makes them all the better.