Live Report: Wolf Alice – Brixton Academy, London

A special night from a special band...

Wolf Alice first dropped into my lap when iTunes (remember that, fellow youths?) was still giving away a track of the week – it was a great little USP, and I still don’t know why they stopped it – and I think it was ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’. I was hooked – shoegaze having a violent cuddle with Riot Grrl, and then accidentally rolling in something extra amongst all the palaver.

Since then, I’ve been with Wolf Alice through at least three phases of their existence. Heaven Under the Arches, where a group of fans who inexplicably knew the words to every song even before they were released were already in place; Alexandra Palace, where the friend I took with me – a classical music fan – had never been to a gig before, stood stock still and bored in the audience, commenting ‘it’s a bit like queueing, but for nothing’; and now, post well-deserved Mercury Prize phase – a festive mic-drop on 2018 in one hell of a venue.

And this is their victory lap, at the end of a year where they not only comprehensively toured their highly accomplished, mature 2017 sophomore album, but surprised quite a lot of people – and annoyed me – by collecting the Mercury Music Prize 2018. I’d put a tenner (the only bet I’ve ever placed to date) on their debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’ to win when it was shortlisted, which it didn’t. I decided to play it safe this time… and then they went and won. If I get backstage tonight I will attempt to take this up with them and get my tenner back.

If you’ve ever heard anyone claim that the front man (person) is on the wane, then they obviously haven’t seen Ellie Rowsell in action. From ‘Heavenward’ to ‘Planet Hunter; ‘Space & Time’ to ‘You’re A Germ’ – her relationship with the writhing crowd is intense and intimate, exploding into joy when ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ starts up.

Bassist Theo (bassists are so needy – amiright fellow drummers?) thrashes about the stage with a vigour that only youth and an award-winning album can muster. To use the calling card of someone who’s currently serving a nineteen-to-life sentence for second degree murder (merry Christmas Phil Spector), it’s a ‘wall of sound’, sometimes to the point that the songs are overwhelmed by the sonic insanity being thrown in our general direction, but it does mean that the audience are bewitched right from the opening notes of ‘Yuk Foo’.

This was billed as a big Christmas blow out, but there isn’t much concession to the season (apart from a bit of ‘snow’ and the crew being dressed as elves, natch) and the group joyfully rattle through their back catalogue, clearly having a blast… or maybe just overjoyed to be at the end of the album cycle.

This is a special band. You can tell, because you find yourself being impatient to hear what they’ll do next – the next time we see them, it might not be in a theatre-size venue. But, whether it’s Wembley Arena or upstairs at The Old Queen’s Head, the Wolf Alice sound can fill and engulf any space it wishes to.

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Words: Matt Charlton / @matt_charlton

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