Live Review: Life in Film with Broke Royals at Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, Washington, DC – 25th August 2015

By on Thursday, 27th August 2015 at 2:00 pm

Back in the spring of this year, London band Life in Film accompanied The Wombats on their most recent North American tour campaign. I’d thought for months and discussed with their frontman Samuel Fry when I interviewed him prior going out to England that I’d missed the opportunity of seeing the foursome play in my hometown at the 9:30 Club, but I learned Tuesday night that Life in Film had to pull out of their expected 9:30 Club date with the Liverpool band, so I ended up not missing it after all. Instead, on a surprisingly pleasant August evening, I saw them headline the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel in Northeast, playing songs from their debut album ‘Here It Comes’ and some newer ones including ‘My Mate’s Car’ that Fry said they wrote in the interim time since missing DC the first time. Having followed the band for the better part of 6 years, I was excited to see them gig to say the least!

Broke Royals at Rock 'n' Roll Hotel August 2015

You’d think I’d be more used to seeing large groups of friends and family showing up to see a local band play, but actually it’s not been my experience. Broke Royals are native to DC and their relatives and friends came out in full force, some of them sporting crowns to go along with the royal theme, clapping and cheering all the way. That’s the way it should be, folks: support means so much to a struggling band. Live, band members Philip Basnight (lead vocals / guitar) and Colin Cross (drums) are joined live by friends on lead guitar and bass. I had to admit I groaned slightly when I saw the appearance of a Macbook next to Cross, but I guess they don’t have the means to get another percussionist or a synth player. Would be worth the expense if they make it to the big leagues, though.

There’s no way you could accuse Broke Royals of having songs that all sound the same. This, however, could be a real problem when they shop for a record deal. ‘Hold On’, which Basnight said was for a friend, has an r&b flavour matching well with his winsome smile and all his charm of an aspiring boyband member, while on the almost too sweet ‘So Much to Learn’, his request for the audience for a call and response reaction plays right in boyband territory; his ditching of his guitar to dance on ‘Kill the Camera’ seems to agree with all of this. The easy, breezy pop of ‘About Time’ conjures up for me seeing Jack Johnson out in the sun Sunday afternoon at Roskilde 2010. Confusingly, ‘Trap’ has a harder, almost all enveloping rock sound owing to their excellent live lead guitarist, and they closed the set with ‘Hum’, another anthemic rock number. Will the real Broke Royals please stand up? I’d recommend they choose one direction, even if it is a general one, and stick to it.

Okay, so I’m seriously confused about what has happened with Life in Film’s debut album. I’m no stranger to tracklistings rearranging when a UK album comes over stateside. Two Door Cinema Club’s debut album ‘Tourist History’ comes to mind. But for the actual list of songs to change significantly? I bought the American version of ‘Here It Comes’ at the show Tuesday, which only has a few songs in common with the UK version I reviewed in April. Funnily enough, the opening track of the American version is ‘It’s What Happen Next That Matters Most’ was their set opener and sounded vaguely Two Door with its melodic guitar. Disappointing for me who is familiar with the UK tracklisting, they chose to omit three of their oldest songs that appeared on the UK version (‘The Idiot’, ‘Carla’, ‘Needles and Pins’) that I was counting on hearing. Speaking to bassist Dom Sennett after the show, it sounds like they’ve closed the book on that era and we might never hear those songs live again.

Life in Film at Rock 'n' Roll Hotel August 2015

That said, there was plenty in their set to be pleased about. ‘Get Closer’, which I imagine will be their signature tune, got everyone jumping and dancing, with its footloose and fancy free feeling, the audience joining in on the repeated shouts of “get closer!” Guitarist Ed Ibbotson’s fancy guitar picking on ‘Anna, Please Don’t Go’ was peerless, allowing Fry to go for a more introspective and softer tone, and the punters responded in going silent so the beauty of the song could shine. Smiling widely after, Fry remarked that we had been the quietest crowd yet for this song on this tour and he appreciated the respect.

The shuffly bits of ‘Forest Fire’ made more sense to me live than they did on record, suggesting a less pop direction might be where Life in Film could be going in the future. Further, they ended with a barnstormer that I didn’t expect: a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’ that concluded with an unbridled display of loudness and energy. It capped off a lively evening of guitar-driven pop and judging from the cheering – not to mention the shots of whisky that made their way to the stage – Life in Film will return to Washington soon and to a captive audience.

After the cut: both bands’ set lists from the night. The UK version of ‘Here It Comes’ by Life in Film is available from ECC Records; the US version is available from Plus One Records. For all of TGTF’s past coverage of Life in Film, go here.

Life in Film at Rock 'n' Roll Hotel August 2015

After the cut: both bands’ set lists from the night.

Broke Royals Set List:
About Time
The Thick of It
So Much to Learn
This Time
Kill the Camera
Strung Up in the Lights

Life in Film Set List:
It’s What Happens Next That Matters Most
Are You Sure
This War
Set It Off
Forest Fire
My Mate’s Car
Get Closer
Full Circle
Anna, Please Don’t Go
I Had It Coming
Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye (Leonard Cohen cover)

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