Words & Photography by Paul Boyling
Following their Mercury Prize win earlier this year, as well as their UK Independent Chart-topping sophomore release, ‘Visions of a Life’, the year before, not only cements Wolf Alice as one of Britain’s best bands, but also how they will soon conquer the stadium circuit here and abroad in the not-so-distant future. Nevertheless, with a sold-out UK tour, it was attending the final date – the second of their two-night residency in Brixton – that I saw a great live show.
The opening act, Girls in Synthesis, were more than serviceable. Their sound can be best described (as one drunken fan pointed out to me) as “Royal Blood meets Slaves”, which is rather apt. They do sound like a hotpot of garage rock, punk, blues and grunge. Nevertheless, it was just a shame that you could hardly see any of them during their set, beyond a poor choice of sporadic strobe lighting and occasional spotlights.
However, Black Honey (one of my personal favourite bands), was superb as always. Their alternative blend of bubble-gum pop, indie rock and heavy guitar riffs – conveyed through their overall 1970s-meets-modern aesthetic – highlights the band’s unique, idiosyncratic sound; old and new constantly in flux, a mostly analogue band in a mostly digital world. Izzy B. Phillips (vocals and guitar) leads the four-piece as a Dusty Springfield-like figure, with guitarist Chris Ostler, bassist Tommy Taylor, and drummer Tom Dewhurst backer her, together creating an expansive but unified rock sound.
Before Wolf Alice came to the stage, hyping up the crowd in the meantime was a unique intro track; a mix of the straightforward sampling from Danny Dyer’s infamous ITV rant regarding the haplessness and ineptitude of Brexit, alongside the ‘Hedwig Theme’ from the Harry Potter film franchise. That track, twinned with the band coming on stage and blasting out fan-favourite Yuk Foo, the mood quickly becomes that of furious and seditious rage; serving as both a metaphorical and literal rebel yell where the band and the predominantly young crowd alike voice their likeminded angst and frustrations at the UK’s current state of political turmoil.
Wasting no time with this introduction, Wolf Alice dive straight into the fury that is ‘You’re A Germ’, followed by the hard-hitting ‘Lisbon’. All manner of people and pints start flying around at this point. However, just as they get into this blood-boiling fervour, they quickly swerve into the melodic ’90 Mile Beach’ and then the pop anthem, ‘Bros’.
The immediate appeal of Wolf Alice becomes apparent. It is their relentless and uncompromising mix-and-matching of different genres, between alt-rock, noise rock, shoegaze, punk rock, dream pop, grunge, psychedelia, folk, synth-pop and electronica; highlighting a sophisticated animosity not heard in most (if not in any) other popular UK music chart acts, boosted by their confidence within their complexity. Furthermore, their straightforward playthrough of their all-encompassing sound strangely works in their favour; no over-the-top gimmicks or tacky showmanship, the direct projection of their music onto their audience makes it universally appealing and equally inviting to new listeners.
Contrariwise, this universal charm doesn’t undercut the band’s biting lyricism, evocatively subverting the walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes exploration of the female experience, with lead singer Ellie Roswell covering topics from the self-referential and much-cliched first love, to unyielding male stalkers, and even in-flight panic attacks through bare-tooth snarling and crooning in equal measure. This can be seen in the deliberately misleading, upbeat indie pop number, ‘Beautifully Unconventional’. This further emphasise Roswell’s ability to effortlessly segue between these moods, genres and themes without going to the utmost extremes; showcasing a shrewd relatability that reflects to the contemporary ideal of the band, enhanced by the backing of Joff Oddie on guitar, Theo Ellis on bass and Joel Amey on drums. The last few songs quickly goes from the rumbling ‘White Leather’ to the deafening ‘Space and Time’, which is as anthemic as its infectiously catchy drum beat – contrasting with the almost sinister grunge / heavy metal tone of ‘Visions of a Life’, enhanced by its demonic echoes and chants – before ending on the heart pounding ‘Fluffy’.
The encore consisted with the hard rock wailing and echoed shredding of ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ and the explosive climax that is ‘Giant Peach’, complete with confetti raining down on the band and crowd alike. Capping off the evening with the band celebrating the end of the tour with a sing-a-long to Slade‘s ‘Merry Christmas’, with everyone leaving on a jolly high-note.
By Paul Boyling