By Naomi Ellis
When it comes to Dry the River expectations are consistently upturned; with songs whose unassuming beginnings leave you raw by the end and better hair than most teenage girls, there’s never a dull moment, so catching the Stratford-based quintet as they began their UK and US tour was a treat.
Opening with two support acts, the build up to the band’s appearance was an extension of the roots of their own sound – the indie-rock group Gengahr were the stand out warm-up, engaging the crowd with their fresh sound reminiscent of The Smiths.
Then, quietly emerging stage left, the band opened with their single ‘Gethsemane’. A deceptive beginning soon unfurled into their hallmark emotionally charged sound. The audience were hooked. A spattering of amicable hecklers and a lot of singing along later you could tell that the crowd were already captivated by the band’s new work only two months after its release.
Peter Liddel, whose voice articulates perfectly the transcending heights and whispered vulnerability of the new album, was styled almost as a Messiah figure, transfigured in white, bearded and barefoot, to set the tone of the album’s biblical theme. Their unexpected riffs and changing tone depicted modern England as a fallen Eden with subtle honesty. Speaking of the ‘garden overgrown’ and the ‘talking snake’ we are taken into the disillusioning realisation of a lost naivety. ‘Vessel’ was one of the most striking songs of their performance, declaring that ‘now the burning bush never speaks to me’, which was later compounded with the thudding repetition of the hymnic refrain; ‘I don’t want to be a vessel any more.’
Even in whispered lyrics the power of Liddel’s voice is deeply affecting as he sings of a reclaiming of selfhood; ‘these are my words and this is my mouth.’ Dry the River revealed a mature side, showing themselves capable of marrying intelligent lyrics with catchy riffs, to create a sound that never leaves you where you expect.
The gig was counterpointed with songs from their first album, continually unfurling the sound into an emotionally charged display. Old favourites, ‘Weights and Measures’ and ‘Shaker Hymns’ were carefully rendered in their unplugged encore that left us all speechless.
These modest lads have refused to become stale in the alternative music culture we find ourselves mired in these days, producing an evolving sound of insightful heavy folk. As an audience we were swept up in their intense harmonies that collided with weighty bass, culminating in a unique experience that was well worth the train ride out of the Durham ‘bubble’.
Photograph: AMG Press