Wolf Alice rode their critically acclaimed wave into Belfast on Friday, oozing the confidence and assuredness of a band much less fledgling than themselves. The release of a superb debut album, a triumphant festival season and a sold-out tour on both sides of the Atlantic pond made 2015 a pretty stellar year for the London four-piece, and they were in prime form for the first night of their 2016 UK and Ireland tour.
NME’s Mark Beaumont described last year’s debut LP as “the rock equivalent of raising tiger cubs – adorable but, at any moment, they could have your larynx for lunch.” It’s a statement that couldn’t be more apt. My Love Is Cool thrives in its ability to deliver a vicious sucker punch out of absolutely nowhere, meshing the boundaries of a whole host of genres as opposed to hopping between them. In the live arena, the effect is intensified.
A key part of why the sucker punches are so potent is Ellie Rowsell’s vocal delivery. It is impeccable in its ability to shape-shift from the delicate to the feral, and by opening with You’re a Germ, Wolf Alice exploded out of the blocks with their most robust example of exactly that. The first words out of Ellie’s mouth told a story with barely more than a whisper, before her savagery in the final chorus smothered revulsion with integrity. Ellie’s voice is flawless no matter what form it takes, and is remarkably better than it was when I first saw Wolf Alice live in 2014.
The band raced through the first few tracks of the set, following You’re a Germ with favourites from My Love Is Cool. The pace was slowed in the midsection, with the album’s goosebump-inducing keystone Silk sandwiched in between 90 Mile Beach (a gorgeous track from 2013 EP Blush) and the album’s wistful, reflecting closer The Wonderwhy. The audience’s red meat lovers might tell you that the set lost a bit of momentum with such a stark change in pace, but the introverted streams of deliberation from Rowsell in these tracks are unequivocally gorgeous, and were a key component in the quality of the set.
By this point in the evening, lead guitarist Joff Oddie had made his guitar offend, assault, caress and melt, and the airtight rhythm section of Theo Ellis and Joel Amey had governed the whole arrangement with consummate ease and precision. The floor arranged a particularly hostile pit for Ellis’s elephantine bass pound of Storms, and Amey’s ownership of Swallowtail was exquisite. The triplet of Fluffy, She and Moaning Lisa Smile concluded the first part of the set with the throttle set back to full.
The three tracks kept back for the encore simply could not have been more perfect in the context of the show. My Love Is Cool opener Turn to Dust restarted it with its otherworldly, dreamlike folk, before Blush saw Ellie deliver a performance of defiant vulnerability with alarming emotion. Arguably their best song, Giant Peach, was reserved till the very end. The metronomic psycho-grunge stalk commanded the Mandela Hall, and the monster of a riff that closes the song out was the perfect battle cry for one final colossal pit. Job done.
Wolf Alice have got everything in their arsenal. It all starts from their musical ambidexterity, but the confidence and clinically clinched nature of their performances, coupled with their engaging understanding of just what to administer and just when to do it, sets them apart from their contemporaries. They without doubt have the limitless potential to be one of Britain’s best and most exciting acts for a very long time.
Wolf Alice Setlist (Belfast Mandela Hall 04/03/2016)
You’re a Germ
Your Loves Whore
90 Mile Beach
Moaning Lisa Smile
Turn to Dust