Last Saturday night I saw White Lies play the O2 Academy as part of their current Friends tour. The result was one of a pressure cooker, with chorus unleashing fresh waves of momentum onto the low-ceilinged room.
They began with a triumvirate of their most powerful tracks. ‘Take It Out On Me’, ‘There Goes Our Love Again’, and ‘To Lose My Life’ opened proceedings at blistering pace, causing me to genuinely worry about how much voice I’d have left the following morning. I was also concerned about how evenly spread the setlist would be, fearing some lulls due to a potentially top-heavy set.
I needn’t have worried. While the set was, predictably, reliant on the newest album Friends, the band wisely stuck to the much stronger first half, which grounded the set with the dancey neo-80s vibe that Friends channels so well at its best.
Curiously, the band’s sophomore effort, Ritual, was largely ignored, with only live mainstay ‘Bigger Than Us’ closing the encore. Ritual was always more meditative, not a natural fit for a night which was very firmly one for dancing and jumping: never has the line “this fear’s got a hold on me” had such a euphoric tinge.
The placid, tropical pink lights which accompanied their opening tracks faded into a vitriolic red to accentuate the desolation of the lyrical content—one thing for which White Lies can always be relied upon is poetic grandeur.
But not everything was perfect: ‘Farewell to the Fairground’ had some tech problems throughout, rather crushing the level of the guitar. When the noise came up to the right level, frontman Harry McVeigh made the most of its throaty roar over the last few bars, but that zeal lead to a rather uncharacteristic squeak on the final note of the song. Bassist Charles Cave was damning in his on-stage verdict: “That’s the fucking worst fucking bum note I’ve heard in my life”.
However, it was actually quite nice to hear White Lies in a more unpolished state than usual. For a band whose synths are sleek and whose live sets are meticulous, it was nice to glimpse the chassis beneath their neon chrome.
The supreme quality of the night rather took me by surprise, as someone who’s been following the band for years. I now realise that White Lies’ music only really makes sense live.
Sure, the lyrics are eschatological and take straight lines of romance and warp them into something more complex, but when people come together to dance to their sound, theirs isn’t a prism of misery, but more of realism—a unifying confrontation against the darkness of the world.
“We had a break after Big TV,” McVeigh said before they left the stage for the first time. “Three years. That’s a long time in music. We weren’t sure what we’d find when we came back when we got back out playing shows, so it means so much to see you all here.” The end of his sentence was drowned out by the crowd. Friends indeed.