‘Epic’ and ‘tragic’ are the words most often used with regards to U.K. alt-rock hit White Lies, along with comparisons to Great Britain’s dark early-eighties New Wave acts like Joy Division & The Smith (and the revival of that sound earlier this decade from acts like Interpol – QRO album review – and The Editors – QRO album review). And White Lies’ live show certainly plays to that, but like their breakthrough full-length debut, To Lose My Life (QRO review), the band built upon that in an even grander fashion at Bowery Ballroom in New York on Friday, March 27th.
On a co-headlining tour of the States with fellow Brits Friendly Fires (QRO photos), the two acts have been alternating the top slot, depending on the market, and in New York, they alternated depending on the night – playing Bowery back-to-back, Friendly Fires headlined Thursday, White Lies Friday. However, the two acts don’t exactly draw the same crowd: while Lies are dark and powerful, Fires are electro-dance (QRO album review). This does mean that fans of just one of the two get exposed to a band they wouldn’t otherwise see, but it does mean that the crowd isn’t as thick as a sold-out Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review) show should be, with many either leaving or at least heading to the back (or downstairs to the big bar) after the first of the two. And Friday night would seem to be the better fit for dance to be at the head of the bill – though maybe Thursday’s actually the better evening, given the increased number of bridge-and-tunnel types out in Manhattan, after work, on those nights.
Whatever the case, after the tight dance-pack for Friendly Fires, the still sizable audience seemed thinner in comparison – but maybe that was because one could see the crowd better than at almost any show at Bowery, thanks to White Lies’ plentiful lighting. This wasn’t a ‘house lights are still on’ kind of environment, but heavy spotlighting on the band, mixed with bursts of light upon everyone, timed to the music. This can really boost a band like White Lies, with a grand, but dark sound, made up of young men, all dressed in black (see also The Stills’ show at Bowery almost precisely a year ago – QRO review). More bands probably don’t do it because of the cost, but it definitely made the epic band even more… well, epic.
Unsurprisingly for a young band who just finally put out their debut, White Lies’ set was all To Lose My Life. Released in January in the U.K. but only recently here in the States, it has shot to #1 in the charts back home, as well as charting with singles like “Unfinished Business”, “Death” (QRO EP review), “To Lose My Life”, and “Farewell To the Fairground”. The last two lead off the show at Bowery, opening their set with an anthemistic bang, before slowing things up just a touch with the (now time zone-appropriate) “E.S.T.” While the singles were naturally crowd favorites – they especially roared when singer/guitarist Harry McVeigh asked them to “Help me out with this one – I’ve got a cold, and it’s really high…”, and then said it was “Unfinished Business” – the secret weapon on To Lose and at Bowery is “From the Stars”. The vocals and beat make it a classic from the get-go, and the tragic storytelling of a friend at a funeral just encouraged the audience even more.
White Lies hit up nine of the ten tracks on To Lose My Life, leaving out only the record’s penultimate “Nothing To Give” (not that surprising, as the second-to-last song on an album is often the band’s least favorite, but “Give” still would have been stronger than “Fifty On Our Foreheads”, which was a little wrote & forgettable after “Unfinished Business”). The band didn’t do an encore after leaving after “Death”, probably due to the ‘dual headlining’ status (and having nearly exhausted their playbook), but wasn’t completely unapproachable, with McVeigh thanking the crowd for letting them play Bowery (his favorite venue in his “favorite place to play in America” – QRO interview), in addition to asking for their help with “Unfinished Business”. The somewhat thinned crowd wasn’t tragic, and White Lies were as epic as possible.