A few months back, I heard some exciting news from a longtime friend–his band were about to embark on a North American Tour with none other than Philadelphia indie stars The War on Drugs. For White Laces, this would be the most insane journey of their lifetimes.
A few months back, I heard some exciting news from a longtime friend–his band were about to embark on a North American Tour with none other than Philadelphia indie stars The War on Drugs. For White Laces, this would be the most insane journey of their lifetimes. On the very day the tour began, Pitchfork rewarded the new War On Drugs record, Lost In The Dream, with a Best New Music designation. Whenever Pitchfork declares a record to be the best thing around, it changes everything. This was the case for The War on Drugs, and White Laces were along for the ride.
Conveniently, their month-long tour together ended in Washington DC, at the 9:30 Club on April 18. I didn’t think I would be able to make it–but then I got the call. A friend had a friend who knew someone who provided us with access to the show, despite it having been sold out for weeks. I dropped everything and made every accommodation necessary to venture to the nation’s capital. En route, I couldn’t even imagine what I was about to see. I grew up seeing so many bands at the 9:30 Club, and now I could add my friend’s band to that elite roster. That was an impossible idea to internalize.
DC looked different than it had the last time I was there, on a trip to see Odd Future (sans Earl Sweatshirt) at the 9:30 Club in 2011. That show had been a delightful experience, something I still touched on in conversation occasionally. Would what awaited me be similar?
I spotted a few familiar faces outside the venue–all of us, as it turned out, here to support our Richmond brethren. We all felt that this was an important moment for White Laces. We talked about hearing “Hands in Mexico” for the first time, and about the days when the band was only a duo, or a bedroom project for singer/guitarist Landis Wine. We talked about hearing the first song on Moves, and the unbelievable evolution the band had gone through. We just talked and talked and talked, eagerly anticipating our friends arriving on this legendary stage.
I ran into White Laces drummer Jimmy Held and bassist Jay Ward before their performance and was greeted with hugs. They explained that they were practically dead of exhaustion but were so excited to be so close to home. Apparently, the tour itinerary had been built around the idea of having a driver to take the bands from city to city, but White Laces were traveling on their own and had make the long treks themselves. Playing all the sold out shows along the way had made the trip worth it, though. Soon, they had to get ready to take the stage, and we planned to catch up later.
White Laces‘ set was essentially their new album–a record that seems inspired by the darker, and in my opinion, better sides of The Cure. As a four-piece once again with the recent addition of multi-instrumentalist Dash Lewis, the songs sound vibrant and together. The many digital elements at play within this new material express a side of this band that I never knew existed. In between songs, Wine spoke about how playing the 9:30 Club felt surreal, and that he’d never imagined ending up in that position. From my own position, it felt much the same way.
Last year, I wrote about songs and records by Richmond artists that really stuck with me. I felt that White Laces had written and released the best song by a Richmond artist in 2013, that song being their recent single, “Ascend.” This was the only previously-released song White Laces included in their 45-minute set. Before they played it, Wine gave me a shoutout, and I guess that made me think too much.
I don’t know what effect I have in the grand scheme of things. I write about Richmond music, and play it on independent airwaves. I constantly try to persuade my friends to listen to local bands. As someone who truly respects and adores the sounds that emerge from this city, it feels like the least I can do. On my radio show the week before the 9:30 Club show, I had mentioned how proud I was of White Laces for landing this tour. To think that I’d get to see my friends play a club that defined my adolescence, and even mention my name on that stage, is a crazy thing to absorb. I must say, though–if all the hours I put in and sacrifices I make to support this thing called Richmond music amounted to a friend saying hello to me through a microphone on a huge stage where I’ve seen tons of inspiring bands over the years… well, I’ll take it.
Then a man in a gorilla costume came out with a saxophone. He played on White Laces’ last song, and it was the perfect way to end this adventure. The members of White Laces were highly amused, and kept looking towards the balcony to politely nod at their tour partners in The War on Drugs for a prank well played. It was exactly what they needed after several massive nights of playing to crowds bigger than they could have ever imagined. I felt like I could just call my night complete at that moment–and perhaps I did. But then it was time for The War on Drugs.
I felt guilty during their set. Having headed backstage to chill with White Laces and their families for a few minutes, I ate some hummus and wandered out onto the balcony. I was happy to be in the presence of my friends, but I knew little to nothing about The War on Drugs outside of a few listens. And yet, I had the best seat in the house to see this incredible band–and they are absolutely phenomenal. With this being the last night of their tour, they really gave it their all. They played for close to two and a half hours and comfortably jammed on many of their beloved tunes. When they threw some covers into the mix, I felt old, because I was the guy muttering, “I knew that one.” It was still incredible to watch an audience gush over The War on Drugs and pull the sleeves of their best friends’ shirts when a favorite song was about to be played.
I think that’s the best way I can explain how the room felt that night. I’ve bled, left shows early, and probably even fallen in love at the 9:30 Club. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a night quite like that one. It helped reaffirm my hope that the music of Richmond, Virginia is as important as we’re all inclined to think it is.
The last moments of my night were standing out front and saying goodbye to all my Richmond friends. I can’t imagine a better way to escape my hometown for a night–to say hello to traveling friends, and grin about the possibility that the sounds we generate aren’t a futile attempt at making something worth a damn. What we’re making can be a vital contribution to the world of music in general, and White Laces proved it that night.
Words by Shannon Cleary
Images by Andrew Markowitz Photography