Wolf Alice @ O2 Academy Brixton, London (Live Review

Christmas is a time for taking stock, looking back and documenting the highs and the lows of the preceding 12 months. In this regard, Wolf Alice must peer with some pleasure into their own rear-view mirror. High profile support slots with Queens of the Stone Age, Liam Gallagher and Foo Fighters followed widespread critical acclaim for last year’s sophomore record, Vision of a Life. Then, to cap it all off, only a few months ago the voting panel of the Mercury Prize bestowed their prestigious ‘Album of the Year’ award upon them.

Tonight, on the final show of their UK tour, the four-piece crash into Brixton Academy oozing energy. Yuk Foo and You’re a Germ are bundled out in hurried, quick succession. Three songs in and Joff Oddie is already hurling his guitar high up into the air and catching it with not only no fear of failure or peril, but nary a bead of sweat upon his brow. It might be a ‘don’t try this at home kids’ moment, but this breed of recklessness has an undeniable allure.

On record Wolf Alice have often proved to be something of schizophrenic entity, flipping and flopping between two predominate styles: squalling, grunge-soaked, guitar-driven rock and melodious, plaintive pop. One of the most striking facets of their live show is that they can effortlessly flit between the two. The gears change seamlessly and Ellie Rowsell’s voice is as adaptable as the band’s own dexterous musicality.

Rowsell also refreshingly casts aside any preconceived, outdated notions of textbook femininity.  She stands firm and proud in an elegant blue dress, yet, when the mood takes her she spits out lyrics with a gnarly, feral fire. It is liberating to observe. Sometimes bedecked with her trusty black telecaster and sometimes not, she takes turns to stalk the front of the stage playing up theatrically to the crowd.

Of the new material, the likes of Formidable Cool and Planet Hunter strike an effective chord, whilst Don’t Delete the Kisses and Beautifully Unconventional are greeted by the sort of cheers that belie their relative youth in the Wolf Alice cannon. in particular, the latter’s nagging, distinctive melody cuts through Brixton Academy infectiously and is sung along passionately by a crowd in the party mood. Whilst the lion’s share of the set is drawn from Visions of a Life, old songs such as Creature Songs’ Storms is played with unfiltered, undiluted enthusiasm.

By the time the band emerge for the one-two propulsive encore punch of Moaning Lisa Smile and Giant Peach there is very much the feeling of job done. Christmas trees that have flanked either side of the stage in darkness up until that point are finally lit. ‘Snow’ falls from the rafters and douses the heaving mass of giddy audience members jostling below. It is a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to a gig that signs off a momentous year for the Londoners and yet another exciting chapter in this brilliant band’s story.  

Words: Greg Wetherall

Photos: Dani Willgress