This Wolf Alice article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Josh Hummerston
This is a massive homecoming show for Wolf Alice. Brixton is a long way south of the river; on the wrong side for a Camden band. But its Academy is an iconic London venue. Ellie Rowsell (lead singer, guitar) and Theo Ellis (bass) told an interviewer in Holland this summer that they couldn’t believe they were doing this big old place so early in their career — isn’t it where you play after many successes, several albums?
The sense of anticipation is huge. And for less than twenty quid, the line-up is terrific. Made Violent entertain the crowd as they make their way into the echoing space, reminding us several times that they are from Buffalo, New York state. An endearingly frizzy-haired rocking start to the evening, the trio will accompany the headliners and main support act Drenge on the US tour.
The largely teenage audience give Drenge a frenetic response. It’s brave of Wolf Alice to put such a popular live act on as their support. Drenge are like a spaghetti western on speed; The Shadows playing ‘Apache’ in a scuzzy northern pub with time-bending parental attention from The Last Shadow Puppets and Arctic Monkeys (‘Never Awake’ and ‘Face Like A Skull’). They pick up on Ramones, Vaccines and Palma Violets and are precocious, with slick guitar changes from their roadies helping produce a lacerating and tight indie sound on ‘We Can Do What We Want’,’Gun Crazy’ and ‘Backwaters’. Breaking these up, ’Side By Side’ is darker, slightly psych, with an instrumental section like LOOP.
The singing is sometimes slightly over-excitable and off key, and the rhythm section have long rockers’ barnets, but the excoriating guitar, changes of pace, well-placed reverb (‘Fuckabout’) and churning bass make for a good live shindig. Led Zeppelin and Motorhead are all over ‘I Wanna Break You In Half’ and ‘Bloodsports’, with White Stripes and Jack White influencing ‘Nothing’, during which singer Eoin Loveless is a man at one with his axe. ’Running Wild’, a heavy soup of echoing psychedelic revivalism, gives them a manic moshing send-off.
And now Wolf Alice. A black curtain hiding most of the stage adds to the yearning. It comes up, and they make another daring move. Instead of a rousing, loud crowd pleaser, we get the hidden title track from the album, the folksy ‘My Love Is Cool’ — so slow and delicate, asking to “teach me, teach me, teach me rock and roll.”
Then, bang, it’s ‘Your Loves Whore’ — with that incredible stop-silent-start-loud effect. Ellie’s voice pierces the huge space. Theo is resplendent in a satin shirt. They have backing singers on ‘Freazy’, which repeats that lyrical phrase “our love is cool”and gets some great little synth noises from close-cropped guitarist Joff Oddie. It shares lyrical references to wolves with next song ‘Bros’, which sparks the biggest pogo so far.
The well-constructed gig ends with showers of gold and silver ticker tape pouring from the heights onto the crowd during the third song of the encore, ‘Giant Peach’, as the floor seethes to the monster metal riff. This is all a far cry from the Kingston Hippodrome on 2 July, less than three months earlier. As recently as that, they played just seven songs from ‘My Love Is Cool’ in a 12-song set. Now, Wolf Alice do every track on the album and still have time for four from the early EPs.
Ellie says they are going to do “some new songs”, gets rid of her guitar and performs ‘Soapy Water’ beautifully and expressively to a backdrop of twinkling stars and white light. She dips into the crowd to grab a daft party hat, wearing it until headbanging during the power-poppy ‘Lisbon’ shakes it off. ‘Silk’ hushes the crowd with its pop-sensitivity, Ellie getting lovely help from those backing singers. It’s like a manifesto: “Got to stay cool, you hot, hot, head… There’s love that is a saviour, but that ain’t no love of mine”.
‘The Wonderwhy’ builds to enthusiastic audience clapping, the texture is varied, the boys echo “don’t leave me here”, the tune peaks, Ellie uses her second mike like a public address system, the feedback cries out. ‘Storms’ from the Creature Songs EP soon picks up the pace again but, as Brixton Academy struggles to turn up the volume without distorting the music, Wolf Alice don’t risk making it too loud.
Drummer Joel Amey gets to sing lead on ‘Swallowtail’ and the lighting — strictly white and yellow until now — bathes the stage in blue. Joel and Ellie’s voices work well together and the song comes alive, so fast during the hard minute-long instrumental outro that it’s falling over itself, ripping straight into a confident ‘Fluffy’, as Ellie becomes the definition of rock chick. “So sweet’” she shrieks as only she can. ‘She’ from the Blush EP is driving, relentless and urgent, slow and fast, with Ellie’s shrieking a musical punch in the guts. ’Moaning Lisa Smile’ gets a thunderously riffing, epic treatment before the main set ends with ‘You’re A Germ’, the white lighting replaced with fiery orange, everyone singing along, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7, You ain’t going to heaven, eyes wild, eyes wide…you’re a dodgy fucker as well”.
The encore starts with a folksy ‘Turn To Dust’, an ironic innocence in the singing of “keep your beady eyes on me”. Guitar notes pierce the air for the lush ‘Blush’. We’re all “happy, happy… punch drunk” as the bass writhes and the guitars swirl. “You have no idea how much this means to us. Thank you so, so much,” says Theo before the lights turn everything ‘Giant Peach’ coloured and the air turns shiny as the ticker tape explodes.