As far as stirring singalong choruses go, “Let’s grow old together and die at the same time” wouldn’t seem the likeliest choice. Yet the line from To Lose My Life, shouted by over 2000 people in unison, is almost the loudest of an already exuberant night.

White Lies (Simon Jay Price)

It also perfectly sums up the White Lies experience: weighty lyrics unafraid to approach the bleak; soaring melodies kept in check by hints of melancholia. But, like The Cure and Depeche Mode before them, when the London trio blend black and white, they don’t end up with grey. This is exhilarating rock music performed with guitars, synths, bass, drums, and confidence.

That’s abundantly clear from their sold-out homecoming show at the Kentish Town Forum, which opens with a song that’s not just brand new, but also their longest yet. The choice is bold, but correct: the towering Time To Give isn’t just the perfect introduction to the just-released Five, musically and lyrically it matches despair and defiance. Singer-guitarist Harry McVeigh fully emotes lines like “I don’t quit when the bets are down”, while Charles Cave lays down a nimble bassline, Jack Lawrence-Brown drums with precision and power, and touring member Tommy Bowen provides the central keyboard melody in a perfect summation of what White Lies do best.

A spiralling instrumental delivers the song’s emotional climax (as Lawrence-Brown recently told us), while giving the musicians a chance to warm up themselves and the audience alike – although, judging from the crowd’s enthusiasm, there’s not much need.  

For good measure, they throw out an invigorated rendition of early hit Farewell To The Fairground next, sparking the night’s first mass shout-along (“Keep on running”), before bounding back to the present with the urgent, insistent Believe It. This to-and-fro between the then and now is repeated throughout the night, with six newcomers slipped seamlessly into the 20-song set.

Of the fresh batch, standouts include the kinetic Jo?, which plays up McVeigh’s jagged guitar parts; a buoyant Never Alone, built upon some particularly groovy playing from the rhythm section; and the alternately brooding and brutal Fire And Wings, unexpectedly heavy and unashamedly proggy.

But it’s current single Tokyo that connects instantly. Recognised from the opening notes, the shimmering international love story looks set to become a live staple and has already earned its rightful place alongside perpetual fan favourite Death. The latter, which has anchored every White Lies show since 2008, remains undiminished tonight, if anything sounding even more dramatic with its pronounced pre-chorus time-change.

Is My Love, from the ‘80s synthpop-leaning Friends, is another that outshines the original by peeling off some of the gloss and exposing Cave’s funkiest playing yet, and There Goes Our Love Again is more unstoppable than ever.

While McVeigh’s voice has fully matured into Unfinished Business, even that performance doesn’t match his brave solo take on the ethereal Change. With the keyboards set to “Vangelis” and his keening vocal a little huskier than before, the haunting ballad can’t even be diminished by a big-lunged punter trying to sing along (out of time and tune).

The wannabe Florence Foster Jenkins is soon drowned out by the return of the full band. And, by the time show closer Bigger Than Us rolls around a few minutes later, everybody else has joined in with better pitch, but just as much gusto – and even more volume than during To Lose My Life. As the entire audience launches into the chorus one last time, McVeigh can’t help but beam, his arms raised, the joy flooding into his voice. Looking around the Forum, it’s obvious he’s not alone. The moment is truly “bigger than us”.


Review of White Lies @ Kentish Town Forum on 14th February 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Simon Jay Price.

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