Thursday, 17 September 2015

959 WOLF ALICE, Drenge, Made Violent, Bristol O2 Academy, Wednesday 16 September 2015

Well, it might be the Chinese Year Of The Sheep, but 2015 in rock has certainly been the Year Of The Wolf… following my hopes, after their blistering Trinity gig earlier this year, that Wolf Alice would totally nail their debut CD and deliver one of the Albums of the Year, they duly went and did so, with the superb, plangent and forthright “My Love Is Cool” a brilliant reflection of all the disparate elements of their sonic template. They then swept all before them during Festival Season, their “secret” tiny “BBC Introducing” set in particular being the talk of Reading Fest. Bouncing straight into a sell-out Academy Autumn tour as well, they’re making this world domination malarkey look pretty easy thus far…!
I’d booked for this one on the pre-sale and convinced Rach of their live prowess, so the two of us headed down a damp M4 early doors, getting caught in traffic on the way into Bristol and therefore hastily parking in Trenchard about 20 to 8. The haste was due to my desire to catch openers Made Violent, a young Buffalo, NY, 3-piece, on at 7.25 and therefore well into their set when we arrived. A whirling mass of big hair (especially from the Eddie Vedder lookalike vocalist/ guitarist), big choruses and big riffs, their scuffed-up, scuzzy rock’n’roll also had some big influences, the likes of Pearl Jam’s stadium grunge, The Pixies’ gutter sleaze, Primus’ angular yelping and even The Strokes laconic new wave chuggery all featuring. Schizophrenic, sure, but enjoyable and intriguing, their best number (another amphetamine-fast Strokes-alike) ending a briskly and punchily delivered set.
The floor was already proper old school rammed, so we had a watching brief stage left by the stairs for main support Drenge, late on at 8.30. A 2-piece expanded to 3 for the “live” setting, their rock was driving, dark and sinister, with echoey, often nasally garbled vocals and occasional middle-Eastern influences overlaying their droney, menacing and fast paced numbers. “Backwaters” for me was their best number, possessing an almost Spaghetti Western feel recalling Ken Stringfellow side-project Chariot, and token slow number “Fuckabout” appropriated The Pixies creepy “Where Is My Mind” opening riff, but those apart, the set became a bit samey for me, the formula wearing a bit thin. Would have liked more of the first band, scattergun and all over the place though they were. However, they went down a storm with the young Wolf Alice massive…
Ran into old friend and prodigiously talented photographer Martin Thompson for a brief chat before he went off to photograph the band with his 1903 Kodak for his splendid "Face Collective" portrait series, which was cool, then, as the witching hour approached, Rach and I squeezed into a tiny spot on the floor, 2/3 back. I mentioned to Rach that if they started with “Fluffy”, the opening number from their Festival sets, this place, already seething with anticipation, would go bat-shit crazy from the off… Sadly, t’was not to be; Wolf Alice took the stage, unheralded, spot on 9.30, and eased into a very quiet, plaintive opener, Ellie’s lilting voice sounding almost nervous. The languid, libidinous “Your Love’s Whore” followed, still low-key and understated, the band very evidently feeling their way into the opening night of the tour, and it wasn’t until the tumbling cascade of the lovely “Bros” (the touching album version), 4th number, that we saw even a glimpse of the real Wolf Alice…
The step-up to Academy level venues has obviously required an increased level of professionalism, slickness, call it what you will, from the band, and tonight the sound was perfect, a lot of the numbers replicating the textures and shimmering soundscapes of that splendid album. However somehow, something was lacking, some maverick, spontaneous spirit suppressed... I don’t know, I feel a little disingenuous criticising this band for trying to play their songs more in the style of my favourite album of 2015; it’s just… I expected more power! More punch, pace and strident in-your-face swagger and attitude! I wanted the Wolf! That mighty animal that snarled so impressively at The Trinity! Instead the mid set was packed with their more understated, shoegazey material, and it wasn’t until the carefree, careering riffery of “Fluffy” that the set really took flight as it could, with the subsequent “You’re A Germ” a magnificent, bristling punked up groove with a countdown chorus of colossal magnitude. I turned to Rach at its’ conclusion and said, “now THAT’S what I’m talking about when I call this lot Mighty,” her pointed and accurate response being, “shame it’s taken them ¾ hour to get this gig started!”
A short 50 minute set was capped by encores of a Madder Rose-like “Turn To Dust”, an equally hushed “Blush” which nonetheless built towards its’ impressive hook, and another splendid “Giant Peach”, the intensity of this riff-tastic finale reflected with another frenzied circle pit from the crowd, who’d been up for it throughout. By anyone else’s standards, this was still a bloody good gig, but overall below their own high standards, and not a patch on that Trinity set. Grabbed half a set-list and eventually persuaded a fellow punter to let go of the other half (!) before we set off (if that was you and you're reading this - comment on this article and I'll get in touch, I owe you!). Hopefully this was just a slight bump in the road on Wolf Alice’s way to world domination, as they’re still on their way!

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