Saturday, 3 December 2016

1,013 WHITE LIES, The Ramona Flowers, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 1st December 2016

Feeling as rough as the proverbial badger’s butt-hole at the moment, with a migraine-inducing cough that just won’t go away, so this one – despite being booked some time ago – was a genuine late call. I really didn’t want to miss White Lies though; this underrated young London trio have reappeared this year after a 3 year hiatus with another album, “Friends”, which continues their journey from pseudo-Goth doomy Editors types with a definite rockist 80’s inflection, to a more synth-led and smoother, cleaner sound, underpinning the trademark big beefy choruses and intuitive hook-line repetition which always renders their songs serious earworms. From Joy Division/ Psychedelic Furs territory to Tears For Fears, or even A-ha perhaps? Whatever, they’ve always been good value “live”, so I was definitely inclined to make every effort to climb of my sick-bed (sick-sofa?) to catch this lot for the 4th time – each time at this venue, oddly enough…

Not so inclined to scrape the ice off the car before setting off, but needs must… had a slightly foggy but remarkably unencumbered run down and into Bristol city centre, parking suspiciously easily in Trenchard and hitting the venue at ¼ to 8. Very quiet early doors, then a wait until support The Ramona Flowers took the stage at 8.25 to the strains of The Wurzels’ “I Am A Cider Drinker”! The Bristol natives announced, “it’s great to be home!” before opener “Hurricane”, which featured an angular, math-rock verse leading into a smooth, synthy 80’s hook which served as a pretty accurate precursor for their set. Thereafter, they mined a similar 80’s seam to tonight’s headliners, albeit with a more mainstream sound, and an impressive vocalist whose earnest, soulful delivery made me recall the likes of ABC or Swans Way. Their middle 2 numbers, new single “Start To Rush” which was a big building ballad, and a similarly slow-burn “Sharks” which was more moody and menacing, were the best of a pretty decent support slot.

Then the place suddenly seemed to get a whole fuck-load busier during my loo break, and my usual stage-left spot was well occupied (although not as heaving as for the recent Jimmy Eat World gig). The lights dimmed at 9.30 for White Lies’ entrance – no fanfare, no choking dry ice this time! – to a brief, “hello,” from vocalist Harry McVeigh, then into the 80’s Euro-synth and robotic beat of impressive newie “Take It Out On Me”, the double hook already ringing out. A similarly strident singalong “There Goes Our Love Again” followed in short order, then the monochrome-lit, gloomier yet no less singalong “To Lose My Life” completed a very impressive opening salvo.

“This is our last UK show for a while, so we’re going to enjoy ourselves!” announced McVeigh, and they seemed intent on making this a proper end of tour party. To be honest, it felt as such throughout – a relaxed, honest and professionally delivered gig from the boys, albeit occasionally understated and rarely scaling the heights of true greatness, and also sounding a little road-weary, with Harry McVeigh’s deep, resonant and old-beyond-his-years baritone dropping out of the mix on one or two numbers. Nonetheless, Still no less than thoroughly enjoyable, though; “Price Of Love” featured a blood red backlight as it built from a requiem march into a gallop, “Morning In LA” achieved the tightrope act of sounding both elegiac and anthemic, and “Is My Love Enough” (“one of our favourites from the new record,” according to McVeigh) was a lovely little brooding beast. 

A dramatic “A Place To Hide” was followed by the very Tears For Fears like “Don’t Want To Feel It All”, before McVeigh thanked the audience for their loyalty and enthusiasm with, “after 3 years away, you really don’t know what you’re going to find when you come back!” then the band really thanked the audience with the highlight of the night in “Death”, the sinister, moody number gaining drama and gravitas as the band slowed the hook to a virtual standstill, before unleashing it like an erupting volcano. A great way to end the set, although a 3-song encore culminating in the strident, immense hook of “Bigger Than Us”, and more fulsome compliments and a deserved bow, finally finished off affairs.

Not all for me, though; I grabbed a list and made some friends down the front, then after a short wait outside got some face time with Mr. McVeigh and my list signed. Some gentle piss-taking with “H-Bomb”, a gregarious and personable young chap, before escaping the Bristol fog for an easy run home. Not their absolute best showing, maybe, but an entirely worthwhile and enjoyable show. Shinier and synthier they may be going, but so long as they keep writing those big killer hooks, I’ll happily keep coming back – even off the sick bed!

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