Album anniversary tours are now as common as Liam Gallagher’s name at the top of festival bills. In just the past few weeks, everyone from Alanis Morrisette and Goldfrapp to David Gray and Jill Scott have announced treks honouring their landmark albums.
Even a band as obsessed with staying relevant as U2 are in Japan right now playing The Joshua Tree from start to finish, a full two years after first taking the LP around the rest of the world.
So – even if critics claim that nobody really wants to hear the filler tracks, or that staying faithful to the tracklisting eliminates the element of surprise and often front-loads the set with the biggest hits – the concept clearly works.
Just ask White Lies, who’ve sold out two nights at Brixton Academy as they tour Europe marking the tenth anniversary of their debut album.
To Lose My Life… debuted at the top of the UK albums chart and featured four singles that continue to be integral to the band’s live shows. It remains their best-loved release, and the band are totally OK with that.
“If people consider that to be our high point, then that’s nothing to be ashamed of,” drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown told RockShot earlier this year. “It’s just stayed with people in a huge way and a lot of bands never get that at all.”
Many of those people have packed into the London venue singer-guitarist Harry McVeigh, bass player Charles Cave, and Lawrence-Brown last played a decade ago. All of those people leave feeling happy: the trio, augmented by touring keyboard player Tommy Bowen, host an all-out celebration that fills the Academy with pogoing, synchronised Radio Ga Ga-style clapping, mass singalongs, confetti, balloons, and huge smiles (mostly from McVeigh).
It certainly helps that To Lose My Life… was seemingly compiled to be performed from start to finish. The album’s packed with huge melodies, even bigger choruses, and a driving insistence that means even lesser-known tracks incite vigorous dancing (or at least swaying arms) in the stalls.
It’s sequenced in such a way that the singles are spaced out among the 10 tracks
And everything’s underpinned by life or death emotions that, when performed by musicians still young enough to feel them for real, connect with people’s hearts (as well as their feet).
So, even though the likes of Death, Unfinished Business, and Farewell To The Fairground elicit the wildest reactions, moments like the dramatic From The Stars (with its refrain of “He catches raindrops on his window, it reminds him how he falls”) and cinematic The Price Of Love are no less powerful.
Backed by white tube lighting that echoes the three towers on the album cover, the musicians fully inhabit these songs. Bowen effortlessly recreates the magnificent string arrangements, while a seemingly tireless Lawrence-Brown works up a sweat on an uncharacteristically warm December night.
Cave, despite his imposing stature, is heard more than seen, with his backing vocals and nimble bass playing anchoring the music. And when McVeigh isn’t throwing back his head to belt out lines like “This fear’s got a hold on me” or raising his right arm dramatically, he’s laying down chunky riffs or, during instrumental sections, slipping in subtle guitar embellishments.
Although there’s clearly still plenty of life in these 10 songs, White Lies are in no danger of becoming a legacy act if the response to their newer material is anything to go by. Opening the second half of the show, the towering Time To Give (from this year’s fantastic Five) is welcomed as rapturously up front as anything that’s preceded it. And that happens time and time again as the band play one highlight after another from their three most recent offerings.
With the now-multicoloured lighting reflecting the additional moods and textures of their output post To Lose My Life…, songs like 2013’s swirling There Goes Our Love Again and soaring Big TV are every bit as powerful as anything on their debut LP. A trio of songs from 2015’s shinier, bouncier Friends (the irrepressible Take It Out On Me, sunny Morning In LA, and retro ‘80s synthpop slice Is My Love Enough) are just as bright, vibrant, and joyous as the technicolour lighting.
And the pulsing Hurt My Heart, one of the new songs from the recent Five re-release, doesn’t just fit perfectly amongst the band’s other work, it’s the ideal lead-in to the album’s standout moment: Tokyo. Already a bonafide classic received as rapturously as the biggest hits off To Lose My Life…, the track elicits a deafening roar when McVeigh slips “Brixton” into the list of cities it name checks.
The brooding B-side Taxidermy marks a brief return to the album that started it all, before a pounding Bigger Than Us (the only representative of 2010’s Ritual) wraps up the night in a glorious singalong that leaves the spent crowd grinning almost as broadly as McVeigh.
Review of White Lies at Brixton Academy on 6th December 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.