Live Review: White Lies with Frankie Rose at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 22nd February 2014

By on Monday, 24th February 2014 at 2:00 pm

White Lies – or probably more accurately, their management team – don’t think that highly of DC. I’ve now seen the West London band every time they’ve come to our city. All three times. They’ve played in New York a countless number of times, but as a result of not appearing here all that often (the last time was nearly 2 and a half years ago, and during the interim, I’ve been silently fuming over the fact they’d skipped us several times; note to bands: don’t do this to me!), I think their fanbase here is probably less dedicated and more fractured. Being a Saturday night, I knew the Ealing band’s latest show in town to support their third album, 2013’s ‘Big TV’ (reviewed by me here), would be well attended. It just wouldn’t be sold out. White Lies has the benefit (or handicap, depending who you talk to, I guess) of bassist Charles Cave’s rather gloomy and always fatalistic lyrics. I went looking for the goths Saturday night, and there were none to be seen! Maybe they were all skulking in the shadows?

Frankie Rose at 9:30 Club 1

The soft-spoken (yet hard rocking) Frankie Rose, then, seems to have been an odd choice for a support act. However, after the first of Miss Rose’s songs, choosing her made the more mixed male to female ratio than I usually used to make more sense. I nearly went deaf by the man who was shouting “I love you!” at her. Gotta appreciate his fervor, though. I saw her open for Franz Ferdinand last autumn and she definitely was more in her element in a club setting than at a posh symphony hall. Wearing black sequined shorts that allowed her to show off her nice legs and thighs, it was nearly more than the testosterone around me could handle.

Frankie Rose at 9:30 Club 2

She seems like a really light-hearted person, the kind of woman you’d invite round for tea and have wonderfully honest conversations with. So it strikes me a bit odd that two of the songs in her less than 30-minute set were of the “spooky” and “scary variety, and she also managed to make fun of, jokingly, the more amorous concertgoers: “Who’s here on a date?” ::pauses:: “Really? Eww…” One of the more emotionally real moments of her set was when she described her new album ‘Herein Wild’ as explaining the good way “how truth always comes up to the top, even if you don’t want it to”. A good example of this is ‘Question/Reason’, which Rose described to The Line of Best Fit as her favourite song to play live, and it shows.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s been quite a long time since White Lies graced a stage in Washington. Unlike the two past times I’d seen them, something was palpably different. In the club atmosphere of the Black Cat coheadlining with Friendly Fires in 2009, the trepidation in frontman Harry McVeigh was visible on his face, until the crowd got behind them, allaying his fears. Two years later bringing second album ‘Ritual’ with them, they returned looking like conquering heroes, drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown hitting his kit so hard, I was sure it would spontaneously explode into a million piece with one wrong beat. Third time’s a charm, so they say, and in White Lies’ case, I’d say they’ve eased into their position as not necessarily elder statesman of gloom and doom rock (I think the Smiths have that sewn up) but certainly celebrated alt rockers who have proved their worth in longevity.

The set was heavily peppered with songs from their 2008 debut ‘To Lose My Life…’, much to the delight of everyone down the front. I was actually quite surprised by the band choosing to do this, figuring there would have been a heavier emphasis on ‘Big TV’ tracks. I was shocked when non-singles ‘A Place to Hide’ and ‘EST’ made an appearance; I wasn’t as shocked when ‘Unfinished Business’ was played, though it was a nice touch by McVeigh to remind everyone that it had been the first song they’d written and without its release, we’d probably have never heard of them. ‘Death’, which closed out their set before the encore, was played no longer as the hugely pogo-inducing set of my memory; just prior to the bridge, the tempo slowed down almost like a fake song ending, which had the effect of destroying the song’s momentum.

However, there were more high points than low. As I had predicted beforehand, the bombast of newer song ‘First Time Caller’ sounded massive on the 9:30 stage, as did that of ‘Mother Tongue’, though I’m still having trouble getting my head round the rather lumbering words. And if you thought the reach of Prince‘s secretive shows in the UK did not extend out to North America, think again: the headline set also included a strange cover of ‘I Would Die 4 U’ that relegated Lawrence-Brown on xylophone and McVeigh on synth. I’ve never been a massive Prince fan, so I didn’t get much out of this, save sensing it was one of the band’s greatest wishes to perform a Prince cover live and given their current stature, why not?

Now that the band have three albums to their name, it stands to reason that before White Lies even contemplates going out on tour, they’ve got to make some hard decisions about their set list, and not all of their choices on the North American tour were great. While I would have rather preferred a far more frenzied response from the punters Saturday night, I think the reaction I witnessed speaks to White Lies’ fanbase these days: reverential, rather than manic and fanatical. Just like the band has grown up, so has their fans.

After the cut: White Lies’ set list.

White Lies’ Set List:
To Lose My Life
There Goes Our Love Again
A Place to Hide
Mother Tongue
Farewell to the Fairground
Be Your Man
The Power and the Glory
Getting Even
Unfinished Business
I Would Die 4 U (Prince cover)
First Time Caller
Big TV
Bigger Than Us

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