As with so many overnight success stories, the success in question rarely happens overnight. Awarded Independent Breakthrough act at the 2015 AIM Awards, Wolf Alice have in fact been treading the boards for over four years, the last two of which being the current four-piece iteration.
We missed them when they did an instore at Resident Records in June and we managed to miss them a few months earlier when they played Concorde 2. We even missed them when they played The Great Escape two years ago. Of course back then, the North London quartet’s name was just one of 350 on the bill. That same year, they also played the Dot to Dot festival and if you looked at the small print, you’ll have found Wolf Alice just ahead of ‘plus many many more’.
Unsurprisingly, not every band on either of those bills has gone on to play Glastonbury, but this summer, Wolf Alice did just that. Their reputation for great live performances has been built on relentless touring, not just here in the UK, but across Europe, Australia and America and the culmination of it all was the release of ‘My Love Is Cool’ which this summer debuted at No 2 in the album charts.
With no Brighton dates on their first major headline tour, we headed west and saw the band play in Southampton. A week earlier they’d played to a huge audience at Lollapalooza in Berlin and a summer of festivals had clearly honed the band’s musical chops because straight from the get go they were sharp as a tack.
They also brought a swagger that only comes with confidence – a number 2 album can do that for you – and took to the stage with the self-assuredness of a seasoned rock band. There were no gimmicks and little in the way of theatrical embellishments.
The lighting was such that there was a noticeable difference between the headliner and their two supports with extra lights and an illuminated multi-bulb panel behind them and – as is the wont of all established bands – the colour palette of their outfits was almost exclusively black and white.
Centre stage – and centre of attraction – is Ellie Rowsell. As lead singer and lyricist, she’s very much the focal point of Wolf Alice and whilst she doesn’t act like one, she exudes that elusive star quality that elevates the band to a level many of their contemporaries can’t match. Her appearance is a far cry from when she was at TGE. Gone are the mousy brown braided locks, replaced by platinum blonde.
Echoing her black Telecaster with maple neck, she’s wearing a sparkly but understated LBD, fashionably distressed fishnet stockings and Dr Martens. She also has bars of silver glitter under her eyes, as did newly shorn guitarist Joff Oddie and bleach blond bassist Theo Ellis.
This tour is the first time the band have had the opportunity of playing their album in full and it’s a testament to them that the songs sounded even better live than they do on a record hailed by NME as “the best debut of the decade so far” Unlike some bands where you don’t always notice the contribution every member makes, watching Wolf Alice you can hear why the four of them gel so well with each adding something special to the sound. At the back, drummer Joel Amey keeps the beat and more often than not, sings alongside Ellie. The drum sound, by the way, was excellent, as indeed was all the sound coming from the stage.
Theo’s sinuous bass was another highlight, as was the intense, soaring playing of lead guitarist Joff. It’s he who provides the expansive textures that feature on most of Wolf Alice’s songs. But it’s Ellie who gives the band its identity and she’s the reason why they stand out. Her voice has a wide range, from the hauntingly soft tones of ‘Turn To Dust’ to the yelps and screams of tracks like ‘Lisbon’ and ‘You’re A Germ’. She rarely smiles and doesn’t say a great deal, but there’s something alluring about her that demands your attention.
And then there are the songs, sometimes trippy, sometimes intense, almost always above average and whilst not necessarily unique, a powerful collection for a band with just the one album to their name.
For me, alongside Nothing But Thieves, Wolf Alice will be the two UK breakout bands of 2015. Expect to see both high up the bill at festivals next year and don’t be surprised if, with a bit more stage craft, Wolf Alice go on to headline. They are that good. Brighton eagerly awaits their return.
Words: Gary Marlowe
Photo: Images Out Of The Ordinary
Follow Wolf Alice at @wolfalicemusic
Wolf Alice’s album ‘My Love Is Cool’ is out now