Wild Beasts - Live At The Lexington, London

Playing 'Smother' in its entirety
Wild Beasts - Live At The Lexington, London

While not necessarily an outright admission of creative burnout, gigs that see whole albums played in their entirety tend to have an air of desperation about them.

"Look how great we used to be, ey, back in the day?" the band seems to be reminding their audience, before adding under their breaths, "and look how much more we can get away with charging you for a ticket now!"

But such cynicism cannot be targeted at Wild Beasts. Nevertheless, their decision to play ‘Smother’, an album released only last year, in its entirety could seem a tad premature, indulgent even.

Yet, by the time luscious opener 'Lion's Share' has crawled into bed with a ravishing rendition of 'Bed of Nails', it's a decision vindicated. Hearing the elegant album performed whole, with its gentle ebb and flow, its subtle melodies and its irresistible rhythm, makes chopping it up, as would happen at a normal Beasts gig, suddenly seem like a barbaric act.

And, despite their name, these four reserved gents from Kendal are anything but barbarous. Rejecting rock 'n' cliché, when Hayden Thorpe smashes his glass of wine on the stage floor in between songs, it's by accident.

Then, later on, when a devil horn salute appears from the back of the small crowd (tickets for this intimate, 200 capacity gig were only available by ballot), he's quick to acknowledge its irony: "Mosh pit, anyone?" he jests.

Instead, perhaps paradoxically, the intensity of ‘Smother’ comes in the restraint shown in its creation. This tension is palpable during a steamy 'Plaything', when brief seconds of silence hang in the air in between Thorpe's falsetto and drummer Chris Talbot's inventive use of the bongos (yes bongos).

Evolving over the course of three distinctly unique albums, the band said goodbye to the standard three guitars and drum kit set up a long time ago. Reverberating bass hooks and ethereal synths have taken their sound to a new level now and no doubt further explorations into this world are already being made as they record their fourth album.

The cathartic and hypnotic climax of a sparkling 'End Come Too Soon', a track usually saved for last at Wild Beasts' gigs nowadays, instead heralds the start of, by the band's own admission, the "silly" part of the set.

"Time for some fun and games," says Tom Fleming, the treacle to Thorpe's honeyed vocals, and so begins 'The Fun Powder Plot', the uncommon opener to 2009's ‘Two Dancers’.

Fittingly, as the band's sound has got increasingly louche over the course of the night, Thorpe's foppish quiff has become more and more dishevelled, culminating in the Vaudeville camp of 'The Devil's Crayon', from their always welcome debut album ‘Limbo, Panto’.

If there is a criticism, it's that Wild Beasts don't seem comfortable revisiting other parts of their beguiling debut, instead choosing to stick rigidly to their other two releases. Maybe one day we'll hear the queer majesty of 'She Purred, While I Grrred' or 'Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye' once again but, until then, we'll just have to settle for near-perfection instead.

 

Words by Nico Franks

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