My Top Band of 2015, back out treading the boards in 2016... after delivering very nearly Album Of The Year with their marvellously plangent, sparkling and spunky debut “My Love Is Cool”, plus very nearly Gig Of The Year in their startlingly powerful and thrilling Trinity set in April (gig 944), this extremely promising young London band somewhat blotted their copybook for me a little, last time out at the Bristol O2 Academy in September (gig 959), an over-emphasis on polish and slick professionalism for the step up to Academy Headliner level rather blunting their hitherto growling sharp edge “live”. Still, I snapped up a ticket quickly (I loves the O2 pre-sale, me!) and eagerly for this one, in the hope that Bristol was just an opening night bump in the road to world domination, and that they’d be back to their potent, powerful best. C’mon, boys (and girl), don’t let me down...!
I was joined by recent gig buddy Stuart for this one and it was also his turn to drive, so we hit the road at an early 6 pm, taking Stuart’s beat route to Cowley on the Southbound ring-road, surprisingly managing to get a parking spot immediately in the normally rammed-full Tescos car park. Yay! Joined a queue to get in at doors, therefore, and took a spot stage left down the front as this sold-out gig rapidly filled up with a very young and seemingly predominantly female glitter-clad audience, Stuart and I conspicuously feeling like old fogies at this one...! First band on, Bloody Knees (again) joined us at 7.45 in a whirl of hair and amphetamine-fast grungy rock riffery; their Nirvana fixation is still very evident indeed as 2 versions of “Territorial Pissings” flashed by, before they got onto the slower, sludgier grunge material. The kids went nuts for them, though, a circle mosh opening up as early as the third number, and by their final, “Lithium”-lite number “I Want It All”, the mosh was extensive and violently kinetic. For me, though, it all seemed oddly dated, and the most entertaining part of their set was noticing the vocalist’s arms seemed to stretch for further than they biologically should...!
Next up, Swim Deep, took us back a further decade in the rock’n’roll time machine, their upfront, clean-sounding synth-embellished pop giving a definite reverential nod to those new romantic early 80’s. The first number came across like John Foxx fronting Duran Duran, and subsequent songs had inflections of OMD, “Temptation”-era Heaven 17, and even the slick AOR of Hall and Oates (yikes!). The crowd again were up for them, though, the high-waisted and effeminately voiced blond vocalist remarking, “Oxford, glad to see you’re up for a party!” They threw everything they had, kitchen sink included, at their final number “House Of Fun”, this elongated, clattering and chuntering number proving the best of an interesting if not particularly original set.
The place was old school heaving and anticipation palpable, so when the lights went out at 9.30 the screams erupted like a hockey international. Guitarist Joff took the stage first, strafing the crowd with some shimmering shoegaze riffery, before joined by his bandmates for a textural intro piece before a surprisingly overt-sounding “Your Love’s Whore”. Then the scalding, screeching punk rock and strident, shouty chorus of “You’re A Germ” really sent the place utterly bat-shit crazy, and we were away, good and proper!
I’m delighted to report that tonight Wolf Alice were back to their best “live”, the power and searing passion fully restored, adding extra dimensions to their intriguing shoegazey indie rock and allowing it to really soar, and their kinetic, energetic “live” performance onstage being reflected back by a rabidly enthusiastic young crowd. An early, angular and bouncy “Bros” was both jaggedly powerful and somewhat touching, and drew me into the fringes of the mosh (partly to distance myself from the sharp-elbowed girl in front of me), and “Lisbon” (preceded by bassist Theo announcing, “Yes! Oxford! It’s fucking hot in here!”) was a metronomic and cacophonous blend of strobe and white noise. Even the slow numbers, such as an eerie, stripped and stretched “90 Mile Beach” and an epic, backlit power ballad “Silk”, somehow collapsed into crescendos of noise. This band had their mojo working tonight, no doubt...
“Fluffy” was a careering delight, diminutive vocalist Ellie screaming the choral hook like a banshee, and all too soon the 50 minute set was over in a rush of sweat and strident power. A fragile “Turn To Dust” opened up the encore before a singalong “Blush” segued into inevitable finale “Giant Peach”, Ellie and Theo adopting ZZ Top rock poses before the mad crescendo again saw a frenzied circle pit open, before the riffs exploded into life, laying waste to the crowd and providing an entirely apposite punctuation to a brilliant set.
Grabbed my breath and a set-list, then we hit the road, the searing snarl of Wolf Alice ringing in our ears. Thankfully restored to full plangent pomp, who’s to say 2016 won’t also be The Year Of The Wolf?