(Great Escape 2012 flavoured!) Live Review: Dry the River at Newcastle Cluny – 28th April 2012

By on Friday, 4th May 2012 at 2:00 pm

London-based five-piece Dry the River are garnering all sorts of plaudits for their debut long-player Shallow Bed. Combining gentle, meadowy folk with grandiose post-rock wig-outs, seasoned with a peppery gothic tang, their sound simultaneously nods to decades past, whilst achieving a fresh slant on a number of styles which were in danger of becoming parodies of themselves. In an attempt to convey their sound in writing, all sorts of comparisons have been made, chiefly to contemporary populist folk revivalists Mumford and Sons; much the same point can be made by comparing a Big Mac to rare roast rib of beef.

Even at first glance of the band in the flesh, it is apparent that superficial comparisons to the Mumford mummy’s boys fall wide of the mark. There’s not a mandolin or waistcoat in sight; what there is is heavy tattoos, skinny jeans, and an AC/DC t-shirt. Singer Peter Liddle, barefoot and flame-haired, accommodates within his slight frame a voice which in its throaty delicacy displays an uncanny similarity to Jeff Buckley. The electric guitar undulates from gently overdriven picking to frantic power chords. There’s harmony vocals, a particularly animated bassist with an impressive beard, and as is becoming increasingly common these days, a violin.

Most importantly, there are songs – excellent ones at that. The set list is pretty much the entirety of ‘Shallow Bed’ (Luke’s review of the album can be read here) with the running order rearranged. Each piece is as strong as the last; the one-hour set doesn’t sag in the middle as is the risk with young bands. The songs kick in with memorable aphorisms, progress at a fine pace and never outstay their welcome. Impressively, the arrangements are both more delicate and yet carry more impact than on record. From the gentle guitar plucking and intertwining violin of ‘Shaker Hymns’, via the sweeping finale of ‘Weights and Measures’, to the mentalist noise that concludes ‘Lion’s Den’, the material works even better shorn of production fripperies, with the simplest of presentations. Most of these songs are proper pop tunes: ‘History Book’ for example, beautifully arranged and carrying quite some punch in its guitars, remains accessible and catchy as a frisbee.

They come back for one more song – the only one left that they haven’t played – and leave to rapturous applause from a genuinely appreciative sold-out crowd. A less manufactured-looking band it’s difficult to imagine, but if one had to combine several demographics – mum-friendly folk-pop, chewy chunks of teenage moshing, a touch of ’60s psychedelia, dashed with Stonehenge mysticism – this would be the result. A fascinating band who look to have a good year in front of them.

Dry the River are scheduled to play at 23.45 on the Friday (11 May) at the Corn Exchange at this year’s Great Escape.

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