White Lies were, along with three other names duly way up in this most scientific of charts, one of the acts I was most looking forward to for this edition. They’d been to Sziget previously- once in the A38 tent (back then known as Wan2) and once as slightly improbable headliners on the Main Stage, on the last day of the festival no less- oh those happy times before the knob fiddler with fireworks. I have very fond memories of both gigs. The one in Wan2 was a late evening show, and I remember being both very tired and very excited to make it to the front row, and shoot some of the first decent shots I ever took on the island. It had that intense, sweaty and loud club concert feeling and despite the band having few hits to speak of at the time, the material of their first album was strong enough to fill out a festival appearance.
The headline show was perhaps a little lacking exactly because you need more songs, and of different nature, to be able to look good on the Main Stage, yet I can say that bar a few glitches, they almost pulled it off. There was also a feeling of them being somewhat emotional about the thing, as they were not necessarily considered for the leading spot at other festivals, and thus invested more passion than they normally would. It was exactly this passion that seemed to be sorely lacking this time around. Being relegated to an early afternoon spot might have felt uncomfortable, but they could have at least bothered with a backdrop- people strolling around rather casually about halfway in the crowd kept asking who’s on stage. Which is something you should avoid at all costs if you happen to be a rock band on tour. To make matters worse, the first couple of tracks sounded so lifeless that die-hard fans might have started having doubts as well.
I for one felt a little lost and kept waiting for some feeling to finally inhabit the songs- even the pictures of the performance turned out so static one starts to wonder whether anything was happening on stage at all. Sure, Harry McVeigh can crack a lovely smile even when slightly indisposed, and his voice remains one of the few which sounds almost record perfect during performances as well. I’ve also elaborated on his outfit already, so some elements were indeed where the universe meant them to be. But the general picture stayed slightly off throughout the whole show, even when the pace was finally picked up for more animated renditions of Bigger Than Us and Big TV.
If they still made it to the number 13 slot, ahead of two bands with definitely livelier performances, it is because of that particular feeling of familiarity you get when you know absolutely all the tracks on a playlist, can guess them from the first two chords and could easily help the singer out should he forget any of the lyrics, though mercifully that did not happen. In other words, a sympathy vote, yet I believe White Lies do deserve it and am looking forward to seeing them again in happier circumstances. Like a big black backdrop with White Lies written over it in white, that would be a good start. I’d even volunteer to make it but then the letters would turn out all crooked.