Oxford Art Factory, Friday 24th July 2015
This youthful and unique, four-piece band hailing from London have been steadily climbing up the ranks to finally headline their own shows. I was privileged enough to attend such a show on Friday 24th July 2015 at Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory.
Wolf Alice in its original form was founded in 2010 by Ellie Roswell (vocals, guitar) and Joff Oddie (guitars, vocals) – and would be later joined by their ‘rhythm section’ consisting of Theo Ellis (bass) and Joel Amey (drums).
Their non-conformist stance is refreshing to say the least. The absence of all things manufactured, contrived or formulaic is even more refreshing. The tone of this band could be described as disparate as both 90’s Alternative Indie Experimental Pop/Garage Rock laced with borderline Psychedelic Dreaminess AND Post Grunge Punk! Wolf Alice does salute more edgy, gritty guitar riffs whilst still managing to coat them with lasting, syrupy melodies and an antsy energy. Artistically, Wolf Alice brings much to the plate, a sensitive and raw feel that darts to moments of mere manic with great speed. They offer a blend of harmonies on the one hand, crossed with hard core on the other – always inventive and honest. That which ensues is an overall clever musical juxtaposition that just works.
On this night, for the most part, we applauded the June 2015 release of My Love Is Cool, the Wolf Alice debut album. The rock infused pop material appears as friendly ferocious and yet cultured in equal measure. A vast array of varied ideas and multi-layered techniques captivate.
When translated before me on stage, such was delivered with what appeared to be a carefree and light-hearted attitude that comes with youth, but sprinkled generously with an apparent underlying confidence, that comes with conviction.
Track eleven off the album is definitely a big tune. Fluffy is what Wolf Alice chose as their opener. Brilliant. A killer punk riff filled the air with such a punchy immediacy, closely tailed by an onslaught of pulsating beats thanks to talented drummer Amey. Thunderous lyrics poured out with Roswell literally shouting them wildly into the audience, attempting to maintain eye contact with those fans hungrily devouring them directly in front of her. I sensed PJ Harvey–esque bluesy anthem type qualities, but perhaps just that little bit more glossy and armed with a pronounced pop sensibility to a degree.
Amey and Ellis had the rhythm down right for the night. Ellis commanded the heavy bass lines enabling guitarist, Oddie, to delve deeper into a non-conventional guitar sound and to run rampant with it. Thus strategically utilizing his free license to permeate a fundamentally psychedelic vibe, which left his very own imprint behind to linger over the music. This sensational use of the instrument allowed for more vitality and expression to flow endlessly. Roswell herself remained a fine leader, switching from barely a throaty murmur to almighty screams, to positively guttural like vocals on the regular. A solid example to single out here would be the track She.
In She, taken from their Blush EP, we journeyed from a haunting intensity to breathtaking fragility directly to hard rock melodic. For one seemingly as tenuous as a silk thread, Roswell managed to morph subtle, yet husky whispers to potently deafening shrieks with surprising ease. I won’t lie – I almost joined her short of jumping up on stage too. I can’t recall who held me back exactly, but thank you sincerely, whoever you are; could have run into all sorts of problems in hindsight. NOT a pretty image, NOR a professional one…
An atmospherically expansive dynamic transported us to some other place entirely, during the performance of another track off the Blush EP, 90 Mile Beach. A massive guitar arrangement here formed a firm structure to an otherwise predominately spacey song. No sooner had the God-given, grainy guitars and pummeling drums reduced to an almost drone, that we’d momentarily been transfixed by the suddenness of an especially slow and smooth finale, in stark contrast. The alternate applications of guitar modes in particular here proved more than creative and effective; quite special and impactful. Again I felt it was very much a reflection of another mature artistic achievement for a group so young. Roswell’s pleasant pitch remained ever present and refined. Her ethereal vocals felt un-obscured, emotive yet light and innocent; a distinct dissimilarity in close proximity to those blessed guitars.
A pretty polished performance thus far. I have a great admiration for female-fronted rock in general. Roswell herself just so happens to be fairly stunning (as talented), but she was not at all dependent on resourcing her femininity as a support upon which to lean. She knows she doesn’t need to (much respect). Rather, she simply got on with her legitimate ‘rock chick’ role instead. She did such a stellar job at that I’d forgiven her lack of banter with the audience in an instant. Redeemably, she did however acknowledge the fans in her own way and gently expressed her thanks intermittently throughout the evening.
Track two off the album; Bros was demonstrative of a proper crowd pleaser. The fans openly embraced pure Indie Pop at its best. For me, it symbolized the very antithesis to a lot of the other material performed on the night; a conspicuous stylistic departure of sorts. Indeed, Wolf Alice likes to keep it as far from one dimensional as possible. The song brought about an immediate glint of comfortable recognition among the many faces in the audience. The crowd created a flurry of activity by energetically jumping up and down, whilst singing back the lyrics enthusiastically to a grateful Roswell and band.
When Wolf Alice paid their respects to a song released in 1989 – dare I say, certainly even before the birth of these bad members, I was suitably surprised. Hearing Chris Isaak’s Wicked Games only further reinforced the sophisticated viewpoint this band shares. The version was both admirable and elegant. The guitar work did include somewhat complex sequencing, which enriched the whole production. Pleasing vocals by Roswell throughout, contentedly replacing her fiercer persona, in both the lower and higher range register. An unexpected treat appreciated by all.
The end of the set had soon sadly arrived, but euphoria had just as instantly set in when the band returned to the stage for a desired encore. A climatic high point for me when I heard flawless Moaning Lisa Smile fast approaching, a superb ginormous cut off the Creature Songs EP. The frenzied crowd yelled the chorus along with Roswell straight through to the end. An exhilarating exuberance ignited the packed venue, completely contagious. The impeccable combination of this song’s dynamism and delicacy is an utter joy to listen to anytime, but it was so much more rewarding to be treasured live. Wolf Alice performed this song as they made their U.S television debut as invited guests on The Conan O’Brien Show just last month. I was very, very, very sad not to have been a member of that studio audience. I am not sad anymore.
Wolf Alice is deservedly picking up pace fast across the global live stage landscape. The act of combining unpredictable, multifarious techniques teamed with effervescent pop themes and catchy choruses molds a winning formula for Wolf Alice. Moreover, they are doing their bit to establish that guitars and distortion is cool again. They serve to remind us that ROCK IS NOT DEAD. Not that it ever was for me, so I personally commend Wolf Alice for championing one of the most just and critical causes that ever existed… Your valued contribution has been duly noted and was appropriately celebrated in your presence at Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory, by not only myself, but so many other proud loyal fans too; and I’m guessing along with a number of newly established fans as well.
On a more serious note, if you guys are looking for that fourth Wolf Alice guitarist, remember Ellie you have my card.
Mary Di Matteo
see more photos here (includes photos of support band BAD DREEM)