There was a time where I went to loads and loads of gigs. I think in my peak year of about 2008 I went to close to 50. As time when past this little hobby of mine became less sustainable. Gig tickets became prohibitively expensive, they closed quite a few of my favourite venues (RIP both Astorias, I will never forget you) and I started to lose touch with up and coming bands – probably because (according to my friend, Paul’s theory) – I grew up and out of my rock ‘n roll angst. Although I have been to see a few bands over the past couple of years – some of which Mr O wasn’t even in – I haven’t really felt a great desire to review them until I saw Wolf Alice on Saturday night.
Up until about two weeks ago my only awareness of Wolf Alice was that Mr O really liked them, since I have been aggressively revisiting the 90’s for about 6 months to the exclusion of everything else. He told me a couple of weeks ago that he had bought tickets and was keen to see if I would come along. We don’t always like the same music (don’t even get me started on the Sleaford Mods) so I decided to have a listen before I made my decision. I can’t say I immediately feel in love with the bands Yeah Yeah Yeahs-tinged grungy folk but it was enjoyable enough for me to agree to make an appearance at Brixton Academy and the date was set.
We arrived in time to catch Drenge, who despite having a name that makes you think of having to remove standing water from a blocked sink, were enjoyably noisy. They have lots of energy and lots of hair and kind of made me think of Reef. Like I said, trapped in the 90’s.
When it comes to being a good live band, there are two essential elements that must remain in balance – sounding amazing and having the presence to captivate an audience. If you sound incredible but no one actually wants to watch you, you’re lost from the word go and being great to watch but sounding nothing like your over-produced album will inevitably end badly.
Wolf Alice is a band that has managed to get this balance exactly right. Not only is frontwoman, Ellie Rowsell, a pint sized powerhouse visually and vocally but the chemistry she has with her band mates is completely on point. Combined with a stage design that mimics a star spangled night sky, this means that despite the fact that Brixton Academy is a pretty big venue, the show feels like an intimate experience.
At the same time from a sound perspective they do not disappoint. Adding back-up singers to ensure that their songs retain the multi-layered sound they have on the album is a good one, giving Rowsell the opportunity to absolutely blast out the band’s powerful emotive lyrics and guitarist, Joff Oddie to shred his way through their heavier tracks.
While there is a lot of fun to be had in shouting along to You’re A Germ and Fluffy, it’s when drummer, Joel Amey takes over for Swallowtail and Rowsell adds her soaring vocals to the band’s more ethereal numbers the that the crowd truly pays attention.
By the time the show ends with an explosion of gold tickertape, I am in love.Wolf Alice have nailed the ultimate gig success measure when it comes to a live show, I’ve listened to nothing else for three days and I can’t wait to see what they do next.