White Lies The Mod Club, Toronto ON January 29

White Lies The Mod Club, Toronto ON January 29
London trio White Lies take the stage quietly. Frontman Harry McVeigh is maintaining a steady, intense gaze at his flashy silver guitar and clutching it gently at his pelvis, as though he needs to think his voice into song. So when his ghostly and unspeakably precise vocals drift away from the mic, he seems unsure what to do with himself, bouncing to the unpredictable downbeats, staring at the people in the front row without smiling and refraining from between-song banter.

Quickly, though, the trio find their stride, playing new songs off their new Ritual LP and old favourites from their 2009 debut To Lose My Life like "Death" and "Unfinished Business." They relax, throwing occasional smiles like flash cards, as "Farewell to the Fairground" comes with prim, prancing synths, playful splats of guitar and flirtatious drums. Drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown proves fascinating to watch as he seemingly musters all of his movements from the tips of his delts in a timpani storm. Elsewhere, McVeigh's vocals are soapy and salubrious, a quality that makes him both frustrating and bewitching; he often doesn't grant you the peaks you're anticipating -- there's no ostentatiousness, no moment when your heart plunges to your knees. The melodrama is missing.

With comparisons to Editors, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, and Echo & the Bunnymen, the implication is White Lies are technique over feeling. And it's true. Their live performance excises the sentiment almost entirely, freezer-burnt out like a verruca. In its place, they do a lot with technique. Songs twitch and writhe, dart in quick motion, sometimes tripping for a split-second and leaving you gasping for air or spring with agility. Live, songs like "Bad Love," "Strangers" and "A Place to Hide" are broiling and concentrated, layered with complexities that aren't apparent on record. Yet as White Lies' set speeds towards its end with latest single "Bigger Than Us," it's like the apparatus of songs is abandoned altogether, flung off like sweaty rags. They just don't look like they are having fun up there.