Live Review... Wolf Alice, Plug Sheffield
Five months have passed since their last UK tour, and in that period Wolf Alice have produced one of the year’s finest debuts in the form of My Love Is Cool, conquered the global festival circuit and now they’re returning home for a victory lap. Barring the Chuckle Brothers, Wolf Alice and Drenge (as support) on one bill probably equates to the greatest Freshers tour going. Eyebrows were raised at the announcement of Drenge as a support given their more established position, and then there’s the sound. Even with Wolf Alice’s heavier forays, Drenge are a different beast, purveyors of a rough-around-the-edges bloodlust. They leave crowds broken and seeing red, and Sheffield is no exception. Their self-titled debut carries the set in terms of hit ratio, with the white-lightning fuelled nihilism of Bloodsports and Fuckabout, the grungiest ditty ever written; “I wrote that song naked, I never expected anyone to sing it back to me.” The skulking material of recent album Undertow betrays designs for something more complete than just riffs held together by sheer energy, shot through with a brooding gothic vision of the Peak District and skulking aggression. On relative home turf, it might as well have been a headline set for the Loveless brothers.
With the hit-focused festival sets of the summer out of the way, when Wolf Alice take to the Plug stage tonight they’re able to air My Love Is Cool in full. Much of the set is spent cycling through everything its dark indie fairytale, with its shades of grunge, flirtations with riff-heaviness and a large measure of shoegaze. There’s minor stalls in the early set, with Freazy simply lacking the drive to step up to the plate so early, and Soapy Water feels limp, far from the shimmering disco allure it usually holds. Bros kicks off the throes of lethargy, acting as a shot in the arm of unabashed pop, with its tale of childhood friendship and warm guitar licks. Wolf Alice may write pop songs, but they’re far from kitsch, with You’re A Germ packing a massive radio-friendly hook amidst Hole’s punky spirit. Silk and The Wonderwhy are two moments of existentialist debate, beefed up with chunky riffs steroids that build a platform for Rowsell’s ethereal chants. The latter’s stomping battle cry “Don’t leave me here when I’m not sold,” deserves more than it gets back from the crowd, but Wolf Alice don’t allow for muted receptions. They project bold and volatile energy, with Joffy Oddy deviating between his guitar and keyboard like a manic organ-grinder, bassist Theo Ellis driving the songs and Joel Amey’s colossal drum patterns breathe life into everything, filling up the dingy corners of the club. The response is manic, sending the crowd heaving to-and-fro.
Frontwoman Ellie Rowsell has never been as much of a performer in the classic sense, usually a shy enigma, but it’s become easier to coax her out of her shell. Her voice is reinforced with confidence, and she no longer holds her gaze above the crowd, instead catching the sea of eyes whenever possible. Their frontwoman embodies the narrative that Wolf Alice thrive upon; the youthful conflict between the dread fear of exposing your truth self, and the rush of cutting loose. At one point there’s a wolf-whistle and the mad grin Rowsell holds for most of the night freezes, bringing the ugliness of everyday sexism into a place it has no right to be. The moment is recovered by the crowd rowdily toasting Amey’s birthday, before he shocks most people in the room with blinding lead vocals on the dazed Swallowtail. He, Oddy and Ellis provide harmonies for Rowsell to lean on, and as she admits that her voice is suffering, meaning her encouragement for front rows to shriek Fluffy’s unhinged hook for her is half crowd participation, half necessity.
For any who weren't yet aware of Wolf Alice’s versatility, the closing duo of Blush and Giant Peach will sear it onto the back of their minds, demolishing and enchanting in equal measure. Though it never made it onto the album, it’s hard to think that the Blush and its self-affirming crescendo will ever leave their set, harking back when Rowsell rejected internal fear and doubt for something new. Stunningly beautiful. Giant Peach is the flipside to the transition; the individual that comes out the other side. Shapes twist and rip in the vacuum of distorted vocals and dark heavy riffs, building to that infamous climax and a collision of bodies. Could you really end on anything else? The muddled start is a forgotten relic, and with a leaner set there’d be few bands that could match Wolf Alice in the live setting.
As Wolf Alice leave Sheffield in a daze of sweat and glitter, it’s a moment to look back on 2015. Supporting Alt J in front of thousands, Shepherd’s Bush, cracking America, a No.2 debut album, Glastonbury, and now Brixton; the coming-of-age for UK bands. It’s insane. They’ve worked hard for this, and truly no band deserves it more.
Listen to You're A Germ below.