Thursday, 10 February 2011

806 WHITE LIES, Crocodiles, Active Child, Bristol O2 Academy, Wednesday 9 February 2011


Another Bristol Academy gig – I’m here frequently to kick this gig year off, it seems! This time I’m on my own, and in trouble; I’d sorted myself a ticket for this on the assumption that Rach wouldn’t be interested, as she’s not a fan of White Lies’ 2 closest current reference points, Editors or The Killers. However she then gave their deliciously dark first album, “To Lose My Life” a proper listen, and loved it, by which time this gig had sold out. D’oh!

So, I drove down swiftly in a funny-smelling car, hitting the venue early for this 3 band bill. However, this meant enduring openers Active Child, a LA duo playing dismal and dour “mood music” over a muffled drum machine and a variety of instruments, including a harp (!). The singer had an operatic, high male soprano voice which gave me Jimmy Somerville flashbacks, and their sloppy cover of New Order’s “Ceremony” had me shaking my head.

Crocodiles, however, were a considerably more palatable proposition; bursting onstage in a whirl of Breton striped shirts and floppy fringes, they played a splendid scuzzy garage surf rock set which channelled the ghosts of C86; pounding metronomic drums and catchy songs about surfing and girls, overladen with swathes of dirty feedback. However the real star was vocalist Brandon Welchez, the Ray-Ban clad mutant offspring of Stan Ridgeway and Lou Reed with the moves of a young Iggy or 80’s Julian Cope, all crushed into a pipe-cleaner thin kinetic frame. Back-lit by blood red spotlights throughout, his was a riveting performance, and the Mary Chain-isms of opener “Sleep Forever” and the faster, absorbing “Mirrors” were standout tracks. No set-list (boo!); the drummer informed me, “it’s all in our heads”; however a longer post-gig chat with the 2 guitarists on my way back to the car revealed they’re back for more dates in the Summer. I reckon they’d put on a corking show in a small venue…

The place was crammed by now and anticipation palpable, so I stayed in my support-band viewing spot down the front, stage left, for White Lies’ entrance at 9.30. A very impressive and powerful opening salvo, featuring “A Place To Hide”, an early “To Lose My Life” and a stunning, strident “Strangers”, an excellent new number off slightly inferior new album “Ritual”, whipped the crowd into a frenzied moshpit. The set wavered for me a little thereafter, with the newer material less consistent than the first album. Like Editors, White Lies have suffused their dark, pseudo Goth early 80’s rockist material with synth and keyboard overlays on the new record, also augmenting their 3-piece line up “live” with 2 keyboard players. However, unlike their peers, they’ve taken a poppier, more user-friendly approach, rendering them like Midge Ure’s Ultravox to Editors’ “Empires And Dance” era Simple Minds. The very Killers-like “Streetlights” testified to this; a little safe, perhaps?

Set closer “Death” was totally audience powered, the crowd raising the roof and providing the power and oomph which this titanic song deserves, and which this rendition slightly lacked; however final encore “Bigger Than Us” saw them roaring back, the strident soaring chorus bristling with power and youthful verve, ending the night on their best number. Still painfully young (vocalist Harry McVeigh, despite his dark, mature baritone, coming across nervous on occasions), they’re more than worth persevering with, and tonight provided a slightly uneven yet overall very enjoyable 1 ¼ hour’s show. More power to White Lies!

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