Wolf Alice prove why they are the most exciting British rock band around today, leaving Oxford with a trail of glitter in their wake.
Opening band, grunge try-hards, Bloody Knees sounded more like a Nirvana B-sides cover band. It begged the question where they got their name from: when vigorously pleading on their knees to Wolf Alice’s tour manager to let them support, or worse, when providing him with sexual pleasure. (Despite my admittedly harsh criticism Joff and Joel of Wolf Alice would later sport Bloody Knees merch, so what do I really know).
Swim Deep, however, nicely set the stage for the main act. Their set included ‘King City’ and ‘She Changes the Weather’ from their 2013 debut, and one couldn’t help but get lost in the dream pop. Aided, no doubt, by performance enhancing substances, frontman Ozzy Williams looked like an anti-drugs campaign advert. His over-sized white shirt could have been mistaken for an escaped strait jacket and combined with his occasional wide-eyed psychotic scream Williams could have just walked onstage from an insane asylum. In half an hour they showcased their excellent second album, ‘Mothers’, finishing with ‘Fueiho Boogie’, the colossal trance-pop anthem of 2015. The performance culminated in four out the five members plugged into a keyboard/synthesiser, synthesising away, to carefully transport the crowd to whatever planet Swim Deep had reached.
Having been supported by Drenge on their last tour, this is a testament to the scale of Wolf Alice’s ascent in the past year. They’ve leapfrogged the aforementioned Drenge and now Swim Deep (whom Wolf Alice actually supported in 2014) – both with two albums under their belt – to lead the pack of upcoming British rock bands. The future looks bright.
Somewhere between the attempted grunge of Bloody Knees and the indie-pop of Swim Deep lies Wolf Alice. ‘Genreising’ the band proves to be a tough ask with the following terms being used in attempt to categorise: ‘Brit-Grunge’, ‘shoegazing indie’, ‘90s indie rock’, ‘intimate folk’ and ‘bubblegrunge’, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Ultimately, they don’t fit a mould; they simply don’t follow the ‘guide to making an indie band’, which is possibly the finest compliment I can pay.
Opening with ‘Your Loves Whore’, the pulsing strobe lights flashing an intense orange added to the ferocity of what would be a fierce performance. The anti-love song set the standard for what would be an intense and hard-hitting show. Followed by ‘You’re a Germ’, the disgust and animosity spat out by the wide and wild-eyed Ellie Rowsell almost felt personal. Adorning a black dress and covered in glitter, the frontwoman looked both ready for prom, but also as if she was about to attend a funeral. Perhaps this interpretation was more reflective of the themes she would sing about. Nonetheless, this is enough reason to tear down those posters of Hayley Williams, or for those still living in the nineties, Courtney Love, because Ellie Rowsell is the new poster girl for rock.
The glitter-clad crowd looked like a group you’d expect to see at a Paramore gig, the same sort that camped overnight to get into the first showing of Twilight Eclipse the day it opened back in 2010. Maybe they followed the trail of glitter to the venue, or their curiosity in the fact the band is named after a fairy tale by Angela Carter. Maybe it’s me being cynical, but nevertheless, this shouldn’t distract from the serious subjects being tackled. Deceptively dark themes of growing up, adolescence, love, abuse, drugs, depression and death, are hauntingly but innocently embodied by Wolf Alice and their music.
‘Bros’ and ‘Freazy’ immediately follow. These very danceable, more light-hearted tracks complimant and simultaneously provide a welcome respite from the venomous fury of the opening two songs. The untamed songs juxtaposed to the dreamier, sway-inducing numbers demonstrate this ranging unpredictability which makes Wolf Alice the band to watch and the best product of 2015. The more composed ‘Silk’ is a highlight, even better live than on record. It sounds like a lullaby, and is another example of the set fluctuating from feral to the ethereal in an instant. The 23 year old Rowsell proves she is both vocally brilliant and able to convey ranging emotions, much like Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith.
Wolf Alice isn’t all about its gem of a frontwoman, however. At stage right prowls Joff Oddie, the band’s lead guitarist whose influence on the band’s sound is evident on ‘Lisbon’, ‘Fluffy’ and with just about every guitar effect heard on the night. On the other side of Rowsell lurks the open-shirted, stagefloor-spitting, bass slapping Theo Ellis looking like Sid Vicious but overdosed on glitter. Drummer Joel Amey, makes sure he isn’t overlooked, adequately assuming vocals for ‘Swallow Tail’, the band’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The unrushed, winding five minute build-up concludes with a final minute, swallowdive plunge into musical chaos.
The quartet have set a new standard for upcoming bands. The band refused to rush their first album as four EPs teased us before the much-anticipated debut was dropped last summer. These EPs were showcased this evening with the dreamy ‘90 Mile Beach’, head-banging ‘Storms’, nightmarish ‘She’ and heart-breaking ‘Blush’ proving that Wolf Alice’s back catalogue is extensive and impressive. Debut ‘My Love is Cool’ was a long time coming, especially since the band’s inception as a folk duo (Rowsell and Oddie) back in 2010. But it didn’t disappoint, receiving widespread critical acclaim and certainly ranking among my best debuts of recent years. As a result, Wolf Alice are Brit nominees, Mercury Prize nominees, NME award winners, and most remarkably Grammy nominees for closing firecracker ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’.
The band returned to the stage for an encore starting with ‘Turn to Dust’, its messages of immortality posing food for thought as it diffused throughout Oxford Academy. They would finish with the giant ‘Giant Peach’, making sure they left their glittery mark on another stage on their sold out tour. Assisted by Rowsell and Ellis’s trademark dance routine, this finale marked an undisputed effortless triumph.
While the band are unlikely to have thought about a second album – their debut being proof of why to not rush records out – fans will wait hungry for more. In the meantime, they should savour these shows because this might well be the last chance you get to see Wolf Alice in such an intimate environment.