Two UK artists, and their 2014 critically acclaimed albums, were on show at the Brixton Academy last night. Both Wild Beasts and their support, East India Youth, were on the final leg of their current UK tour (which had already taken in Glasgow, Manchester, Cambridge, Dublin and Bristol) and were keen to share their newly released material with their South West London audience.
Albums ‘Total Strife Forever’ from William Doyle (better known as ‘East India Youth’) and Wild Beasts ‘Present Tense’ have been roundly applauded by the music press and both have achieved relative commercial success. Due to these factors the Brixton Academy was full to bursting last night for this indie-fest.
‘East India Youths’ William Doyle looked a lonely and humbled figure as he stood amongst his electronic equipment, guitar and projector screen. Any illusions that this would be a nervous, quiet affair though were quickly dispelled as a set of the upmost quality was unleased upon all who had arrived early. It was an absorbing 30 minutes that took me as much by surprise as I’m sure it did for many in attendance. Both “Heaven, How Long” and the quite brilliant “Looking For Someone” were delivered with aplomb as the artist continued to grow in confidence. Doyle is an incredible individual to watch with his nodding head (think of David Gray) and his hunched frame towering over his keyboards. He was completely immersed in the performance and if were not for our applause I’m certain he would have forgotten we were there and that he was playing a leading London music venue such was his concentration and attention to detail.
A guitar and his own vocals were introduced where necessary. In a way it was like watching an interpretation of a 21st century one man band where synths, lighting and computer visual effects had replaced knee cymbals, a hat for spare change and a monkey on a string. Here we had a multi-instrumentalist who was able to entertain on a large, professional scale and did so quite brilliantly. A rapturous applause was fully deserved after surpassing what had gone before and lifting his set into a complete frenzy before handing the baton to Wild Beasts for part two of the evening’s entertainment.
Wild Beasts 2014 has been remarkable. Content from ‘Present Tense’ has appeared on most commercial radio playlists and the album itself made an impressive showing by breaking into the UK top 10. This clearly had a bearing on the Brixton Academy’s capacity as there was literally not an inch to move into. Bigger acts have attracted lesser audiences here.
The set started will enough with “Mecca” and the catchy “Sweet Spot” from the latest LP. However, after a couple of older tunes (including “Reach a Bit Further” from 2011’s ‘Smother’) and then ‘Pregnant Pause’ it dawned on me that the performance was a little predictable. I neither liked nor disliked what I was seeing and hearing but couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t seeing anything particularly special. The audience in parts seemed to respond positively but generally there was little movement or expression to be seen.
Clearly we were witnessing talented musicians and a back catalogue of material to rival the most established of indie-bands but I still wasn’t convinced I was experiencing anything as exciting as I had seen in the warm-up performance from ‘East India Youth’. By the end of the set nothing had really changed. Yes, it had been a professional and well turned out performance and yes, all the boxes had been ticked with regards to new and old material. However, that same nagging feeling remained. The general comments in the local bars after the gig all seemed to contain the word “OK”. I think that sums it up really … Wild Beasts were simply “OK”.