Review: Dry The River – XOYO, London

A brief sojourn at the main stage at last year’s End of the Road festival provided my only previous live experience of Dry The River.  Perhaps at the time they hadn’t grown into the festival-sized stage environment, but tonight’s show suggests they have fast outgrown the constraints of XOYO’s hole-in-the-wall stage.

 Early EP’s suggested a predominantly laid-back, harmony laden folk style, but even six months ago it was clear they were ramping up the rock.  Unlike many of the bands on the rapidly-plateauing nu-folk scene, Dry The River don’t seem to worry too much about replicating lush studio harmonies on stage, preferring a rawer, impassioned style.  With his Cobainesque straggly blonde hair, singer Pete Liddle leads his band of bearded, tattooed troubadours through a form of folk grunge which leans towards the soft-soft-loud-loud-louder format.

 At times the sound of Liddle’s keening, tremulous voice, picked out with arpeggiated guitar, evokes the late ’60s Greek outfit Aphrodite’s Child.  With lyrics heavily laden with Biblical and religious imagery – rosary beads, Shaker hymns and holes in hands roam freely – one could imagine ancestral links to the Hellenic folk-rockers’ Book of Revelation themed magnum opus “666”.  Dry The River have also been known to cover the odd Josh T Pearson song – not tonight, sadly – which further betrays a fire-and-brimstone lineage.

A sell-out audience lapped up songs old and new, and were generally respectful of the quieter moments, not least of which saw the band starting Weights And Measures by singing while stood away from the microphones, virtually unplugged.  When things got heavier, band and audience alike let loose, with New Ceremony in particular generating a suitably bouncy, sweaty moshpit.

 The band were clearly in a party mood, this being their last show before being whisked away to the airport to hook up with Alabama Shakes for a US tour.  They even let violinist Will Harvey loose toward the end, coming from the back of the stage to provide some Urban Blitz mayhem on Bible Belt and Family, before the band left the stage.  Returning after the accustomed breather, it was Jagerbombs all round before a beefy thrashout on Lion’s Den rounded things off in scuzzy style.

 The band’s debut album Shallow Bed is released on the 5th of March.  With their growing popularity they may soon be looking to trade XOYO for KOKO, and of course the summer’s festival season looms on the horizon.  Filling space with noise and clatter is easy; the challenge for the band will be to retain the subtleties of their quieter moments and command those larger stages.

 Simon Sadler