Live Review: Wolf Alice with Branden Daniel & The Chics at Barboza 3/9/2015

photos by Victoria Holt (view set)

In the last few years, there’s been a slew of English, (mostly) London-based bands emerging from basement gigs with world-beating ambitions and the musical elements to make good on them: a heavy dose of pop melody, a balance of snarky storytelling and heartfelt appeal, and most of all, hooks that are specifically designed to be sung by 30,000 people on the Glastonbury highlight reel. Twenty years ago, this was called Britpop – we can only hope that no one coins an equally-as-reductive tag for these bands – and all of the premier bands from that era (save for Oasis) tried, to one degree or another, and failed to obtain anything beyond cult success in America. Touring America nearly caused Blur and Suede to break up, and Noel Gallagher has repeatedly stated that Oasis’ infamously disastrous ’96 tour prevented the Mancunians from being arena-conquering gods on both sides of the Atlantic. Wolf Alice, perhaps the most prominent of the bands in the aforementioned current wave, was probably aware of this as they head out on their first proper US tour, but playing on a Monday night to a sold-out Barboza probably tells them that even if they don’t have world-conquering ambitions, there’s more than a fighting chance that they’ll at least be back for a return trip.

Starting the night off was local favorites Branden Daniel & The Chics, playing a show on Daniel’s birthday, no less. Daniel, bassist/keyboardist Nate Kruz, and drummer Matt Winter’s style of roaring, blues-via-garage rock doesn’t share Wolf Alice’s pop smarts or tender, emotive appeals, but it does share their penchant for volume, which was more than enough to make them a great choice for an opener. Daniel is a relentless shredder first and an affable frontman second; swinging his mop of hair around when not singing in both a casual growl and a embroiled yelp, he was the stage’s focal point from the very beginning. Likewise, Winter’s a hell of a drummer: a guy who pounds the skins way harder than he needs to, which is exactly the right amount of force to match Daniel’s unhinged, dirty guitar performances. Likewise, when not serving as Daniel’s comic foil in between songs, Kruz was slashing through some deathly ferocious bass lines, occasionally doubling up with Daniel’s riffs to create a dual-pronged ass-kicker of a guitar line. Loud and fast, the band weren’t so much a warm up performance as it was a wake-up kick in the face. (Which is to say, it was great.)

Although they’ve only recently been a blip on the radar over here, Wolf Alice have been pegged as a serious contender for Next Big Thing status for some time now, and for good reason: they unabashedly write songs with hooks so big that, if they weren’t a rock band, some major label suits probably would have already hired them to write for Katy Perry. A band emerging with a song as catchy as “Bros” and following it with an even hookier single in “Moaning Lisa Smile” is going to be met with hype and a lot of it. So across the past two years, they’ve cut their teeth at every major festival in England and risen to the challenge that countless NME also-rans never could. Considering that they’ve already played a rapturously-received Glastonbury set by now, a small room like Barboza should be no problem. A lot of bands who come through the Neumos basement are still finding their footing, but Wolf Alice played exactly like a band with as much live experience as they have should: frenetically and dynamically, showing off as much stylistic range as they could muster in the course of 45 minutes, complementing their more intimate songs with their clearly established crowd pleasers.

Front and center, frontwoman Ellie Rowsell served as the cornerstone of the band, an atypical role for a singer, but a smart move for Wolf Alice. Where Rowsell is focused and attached to her two microphones (most of Wolf Alice’s songs don’t allow her to step away for more than a few bars), her bandmates are frenetic and chaotic. The rhythm section of Joel Amey and Theo Ellis rolls like a freight train; even on the slower numbers (“Blush”, “Your Love’s Whore”), their playing was muscular and tight. Similarly, guitarist Joff Oddie showed considerable depth, switching from razor-sharp riffs to moody, atmospheric tones smoothly and frequently. (His pedalboard is massive and it’s likely that he used every last one of his effects across their set.) Together, they’re a powerful, well-rehearsed unit that’s used to playing for big rooms – they opened for Alt-J at the 02 Arena in January – which means that swinging for the rafters with all of the aforementioned singles in the packed room was a surefire strategy. (It’s telling that their latest single, “Giant Peach”, doesn’t really have a rallying hook or even a chorus. What it does have, however, is an explosive conclusion with an atom bomb of a breakdown riff that parallels a massive EDM-style drop and plays entirely to their strengths in a live setting.) Although they’re still trading off of various EPs and singles from the last two years (their debut album, My Love Is Cool, is due in June), they’re able to merge those stray tracks into a fluid, consistent set, which is no small feat. Wolf Alice are in the position CHVRCHES and HAIM were in about two years ago – they’ve got all the hype in the world, a solid live show, and a slew of singles that would buoy their career even if the album itself doesn’t end up surpassing their quality. Of course, having the goods is only 10% of having a successful career in the music business. Regarding the other 90%, Wolf Alice need to be in the right place at the right time. The thing is, there’s a pretty good chance they might already be there.

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One Comment

  1. David Hay
    Posted March 11, 2015 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    and another great show from Wolf Alice at the Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver on Tues March 10!

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