Predicting the quality of a band’s live performance based upon the music they’ve selected to play in the interim time has become almost second nature to me. I know all those wise things about not judging a book by its cover, but when the grand operatics of Michael Jackson’s ‘Will You Be There’ fill the room as the lights darken, I’m fairly confident that this bodes well for the performance that will follow. And if there’s one thing Dry The River do well, it’s performing. From the mimicking of guitar solos to interpretative dance moves, the London-based quintet seem well-rehearsed after a lengthy string of tour dates for this sold-out hometown show, their biggest headliner to date.
Appearing mismatched and cheerful, with lead singer Peter Liddle and bassist Scott Miller dressed in what could pass well for Kurt Cobain’s hand-me-downs, and slightly more subdued outfits and haircuts for Matt Taylor, Will Harvey and Jon Warren (guitar, violin and drums respectively), they begin tonight’s proceedings with ‘No Rest’. Thoughtful and withdrawn at first but quickly revealing their noisier colours, this is the perfect opener, particularly for any members of the audience unfamiliar with the debut record Shallow Bed.
You can watch the video for ‘No Rest’ right now, if you’re curious:
Liddle’s tremulous tenor vocals quiver throughout each song as they work their way through the album, billowing as Miller and Taylor join forces and deliver what surely will become trademark harmonies. Never have I heard such pretty sounds from the mouths of more unlikely-looking candidates (book, cover… I know, I know). This is balanced out by their evident ability to rock the folk out, painting a broad audio landscape. Flickers of intimacy and longing frequently lead to turbulent conclusions, but almost every song is anchored down by a devastatingly catchy chorus, with ‘History Book’ serving as an excellent example.
This relentless wavering between towering energy and quiet confession creates a sense of worship and communion, which only intensifies during ‘Weights & Measures’. Singing the first verse and chorus sans amplification and encouraging a willing audience to join in has the desired magical effect, as it transpires only half of us know the lyrics well enough to sing along, resulting in a hushed, choir-like accompaniment. The repetitive use of philosophical, mythological and Biblical references in the lyrics corresponds accordingly to this ardent atmosphere, and ‘Shaker Hymns’ positively glows.
There’s an easy camaraderie on stage, with Miller by far being the most outspoken. Lead singer Liddle reveals Miller has written out tonight’s setlist on a gym vest he found chilling out in their dressing room, and offers to throw it into the crowd’s clamouring arms. Liddle occasionally mimes the lines he’s singing, with the lyric ‘I need it like a hole in the head’ prompting a gun-to-temple motion. Darkly comic, it’s hard to tell whether this is all part of the performance or a natural gesture. Contrastingly, Taylor plays the role of classic rock guitarist with his silent concentration.
The inevitable but welcome encore sees support bands Tall Ships and Bowerbirds re-enter the stage with Dry The River to woo us with a rendition of the gospel song ‘Down In The River To Pray’. The audience match the obvious delight of the band, as they declare they “just fulfilled a childhood dream”. The night ends for good with the raucous ‘Lion’s Den’, a valiant violin only just succeeding in soaring over the commotion.