Fresh off a frenetic summer of touring and their recent taking home of the coveted Mercury Prize for acclaimed sophomore album Visions of a Life, London grunge-folk outlet Wolf Alice were back in the capital for a special on-off performance at The Q Awards 2018. Set at Camden’s iconic Roundhouse venue (a converted former train shed, if you’d believe), the relative intimacy of the gig for Wolf Alice’s current standards is even more humbling given that the band formed in Camden, and their regular off-tour haunt The Hawley Arms is just down the street. Taking the stage here, just hours after receiving their award for Best Live Act, is a rather fitting reminder of the homegrown talent that can emerge into the UK live music scene.
First up though - and hell-bent on at least stealing some of the thunder - were another band touring in support of a sophomore record, in Bristol punks IDLES. Joy as an Act of Resistance is the title of their new album: it’s a forty minute assault of brilliance on the physical and political senses and quite frankly, it’s the record we all needed this year. I’m sure many will agree.
Slow-burner Colossus is a monstrous opener to IDLES’ seven song set, a track that gradually transforms from lethargic drum stick taps towards an insanely energetic aggro-punk crescendo, sending the audience from quiet fascinated anticipation into a wild entanglement of flying limbs and bodies. Segueing faultlessly into the excellently titled Never Fight a Man with a Perm kept up the mania to the point that it was never lost. Joy as an Act of Resistance hints at its overt political nature from the outset, a theme that was kept up on the stage - frontman Joe Talbot dedicating Danny Nedelko to the immigrant community whilst screaming ‘’I kissed a boy and I liked it’’ to single handedly dismantle toxic masculinity on Samaritans. There’s a message to each of IDLES’ songs, and in a live context makes them an immense force to be reckoned with.
As much as they tried however, they could not usurp Wolf Alice. Ellie Rowsell, Theo Ellis, Joff Oddie and Joel Amey were in almighty form, and possessed utter command all through their fifteen song set. Although they were only on stage for an hour, you got the sense that the smaller dose of all things Wolf Alice had somewhat more explosivity to make up.
The more temperate opener of Your Love’s Whore was quickly cast aside for Yuk Foo and You’re a Germ, songs which sent those gathered on the floor of the Roundhouse into an utter frenzy. Their more textural side is brought out on Visions of a Life anthem Don’t Delete the Kisses: airy keyboards and Rowsell’s gentle monologue bringing a calmer air to proceedings.
You do get the sense from watching the band that they still haven’t come to terms with their success, which may be why they show so much joy and passion in wielding their instruments of choice - Joff Oddie delivering a spectacular guitar flip whilst ripping all sorts of feedback bedlam during Space & Time epitomised this. Their devoted fan base reciprocated, screaming the lyrics of Silk at each other as if lives depended on it, and requiring no urging from the band members to dance/bodyslam along.
Whilst Wolf Alice staples Moaning Lisa Smile and Blush were surprising omissions from the condensed setlist, the tranquil early EP track 90 Mile Beach was a welcome return back from the pre-Visions era. The band concluded with a flourish in the holy trinity of Visions of a Life, Fluffy and Giant Peach, only drawing an even more thunderous reception from those present, as they filed out in the cold air of Chalk Farm Road. Wolf Alice thoroughly deserve all their recent accolades.
Wolf Alice round off the Visions of a Life campaign in the UK with a show at Manchester’s O2 Victoria Warehouse and two nights at O2 Academy Brixton just before Christmas. With a rumoured return to some old material and some Chrimbo songs in the mix, It’s looking to be an unmissable one.