Dry The River are one of those bands that seemed to suddenly make it big (or bigger, at least). Yes, there’s been some buzz about them for a while and yes, they appeared on the BBC’s Sound of 2012 long-list but it was really with the release of their debut album Shallow Bed that they gained wider attention and which resulted in most of the dates on this UK tour, including this Bristol date at The Fleece, selling out weeks or months in advance.
One of the things you notice fairly quickly when listening through the album is that Dry The River know how to write a song that builds. It’s appropriate then that after support from Dancing Years (formerly Joseph & David) and Tall Ships, and after a fairly long delay, the stage darkens and Michael Jackson’s Will You Be There comes on the Fleece’s sound-system – a song that (as well as featuring in the film Free Willy) begins with an ominous orchestral/choral piece followed by a single solo piano run through of the chord progression and then alternations from African-inspired drums, choral oohs and finger-clicking to MJ’s vocals over the piano progression until it reaches it’s climactic call and response between the king of pop and the choir. A song that builds, basically!
Anyway, back to the band in question and as the choir fades out, the DtR boys pick up their instruments and Peter Liddle begins the first of many solo falsetto intros for opening song No Rest which grows gradually from quiet opening lines – “I used to be a king alone” – to it’s climax – “I loved you in the best way possible”. This is the perfect example of two of Dry The River’s strengths – firstly that their is a definite sense of storytelling in their songs, both lyrically and musically, and secondly that they can write some really exceptional hooks.
As they progress through a set of tracks from the album, it’s apparent that Big Jeff (who gets a shout out from the band straight after the first song) is not the only fan in the audience and even from my position pretty close to a speaker, I could hear a significant proportion of the Fleece crowd singing along to the choruses. This was even more clear at the start of Weights & Measures which the band sung off-mic with the crowd’s accompaniment with another great hook – “I was prepared to love you and never expect anything of you” – one of the highlights of the evening.
There are plenty more highlights to mention as they throw hook after hook at the audience with tracks such as Demons (“fight those demons day in and day out”) and recent single New Ceremony (“I know it’s gotta stop, love, but I don’t know how”) and the last two songs they play tonight both make for brilliant finales – Bible Belt (“the trick of it is don’t be afraid anymore”) and Lion’s Den which also ends the album and builds to thrashing guitars, sawing violin, crashing cymbals and shouts from Liddle (and the crowd) of “you took me to the lion’s den”.
The Dry The River boys have made an excellent opening gambit with Shallow Bed and the Fleece audience certainly enjoyed seeing it performed live (and joining in). It remains to be seen, though, whether they can move past the comparisons with bands such as Arcade Fire, The National and those darn Mumfords to be appreciated in their own right or whether they’ll just be another entry in the late noughties folk-rock history book.
Time will tell – perhaps new bands in 5 years will be said to be “a bit Dry The River” – but until then, this is solid stuff – a band worth seeing and an album worth owning.
Keep scrolling for more photos (mostly of hair!)…