Wolf Alice must have been feeling the weight of lofty expectations and quite a lot of pressure on night 2 of their sold-out 4-night residency in the O2 Forum, Kentish Town. This is their home territory, a 4-night sell-out and alas their bass player Theo Ellis was sick-noted due to a swollen elbow. This resulted in a last-minute change to the support line-up where Kent duo Slaves were drafted in. Mercifully myself and my fellow attendee deliberately arrived too late to see them and got to the venue in time to see the final support act Bloody Knees. The young, grungy Cambridge quartet had no problem pleasing the crowd and filling the cavernous venue with their dirty guitar sounds amongst highly dextrous melody.
Thankfully the stage times and tour staff were quick and efficient in clearing the stage and the gap between BK and WA was very short, enabling Ellie and the boys to enter stage at precisely 9.30. Strobic torch lighting was used beautifully, giving lead singer Ellie Rowsell a suitably iconic rock n’ roll silhouette. Despite Theo’s absence, Gengahr’s bassist John Victor did a sterling job at standing in and there was no loss in power or audio quality. In fact, WA were impressive audibly, particularly drummer Joel Amey who performed superbly throughout.
The first track performed was “Your Love’s Whore”, a staggering, climatic and mature track from a band who are unfairly labelled as “youth-only”. It sets the scene nicely for those who are unfamiliar with the band’s work (as my partner-in-crime was). If I was to generalise their sound, anyone familiar with sub-grunge bands of the first half of the 90s such as Belly, Lush, Veruca Salt, Breeders et al would be on to a good starting point. However, Ellie Rowsell’s lyrics and vocals show a sophistication and maturity as well as confidence beyond her years. Her effortless stage presence is impressive – it almost feels as if the very idea of her being anything else other than her calm, ethereal self is ludicrous, no Gallagher-style uncouthness, no need to flash flesh – just sing or scream the songs and thank the audience.
Curiously, the band commence their set with 3 of their most popular tracks, following up with “You’re A Germ” which is a daft few minutes of screamy but enjoyable mosh pit nonsense – admittedly it’s my least favourite WA song and I was relieved to see them get this out of the way early. Wonderful summery Madchester-style pop followed in the form of “Freazy” – gloriously self-referencing the band name in its own chorus. Who needs marketing gimmicks when the music can do the talking? And indeed, as the song marvellously states – “You can hate us all you want but it don’t mean nothing at all”.
The set appeared to zoom by, only lasting an hour due to the band having one album’s worth of material. However, this was an hour full of confidence, hypnotic and layered guitar sounds and the always-judgemental mosh pit were clearly in full approval. Mellow moments ensued during “Swallowtail”, crooned by drummer Amey and Ellie was happy to take a backseat at this point, again showing zero ego issues apparent within the band. The encore gave us a truly sublime version of “Turn to Dust”, an opiated softly strummed, hypnotic yet tender reflection on mortality, all the more touching from the mind of one so young. Ellie’s vocals became more soprano-esque at this point and didn’t once waver. The final track was their previous set-opener Giant Peach which hugely satisfied the crowd, and towards the end the big guns were pulled out which confirmed Wolf Alice’s soon-to-be-mainstream status – the confetti guns, that is. This now appears to be not-so-secret record industry code for bands who are about to embark on the Big Time so no doubt arena tours will beckon once 2016’s festival season concludes.
Overall, an incredibly impressive and quietly confident show where Wolf Alice have proven themselves to be a band who let the music do the talking. I’m not known for my predictive skills but the US would no doubt welcome this band with open arms. World domination awaits… you have been warned.
- Your Love’s Whore
- You’re a Germ
- 90 Mile Beach
- The Wonderwhy
- Moaning Lisa Smile
- Turn to Dust
- Giant Peach