Around halfway into Wolf Alice’s set at the Brixton O2 Academy on Saturday night (September 26), a sweating boy straight from the mosh pit, turned in search of his friends and finding only me, said earnestly, open-eyed “Lisbon is going to be insane” just as the closing bars of that very song faded through amps. It was a night in which even the most clean cut of young millennials lost their minds in the frenzied, celebratory atmosphere of the north London band’s triumphant return home.
Wolf Alice blew up during the summer thanks to the release of their first full-length debut, My Love Is Cool, and much blog coverage and radio time, so there is an air of something big happening south of the river. A mixture of die hards who have seen them through the first EPs and steady stream of single releases mixes with newer fans – “i haven’t heard a single song I know”, I hear a girl moan at around the fourth song mark – each as excitable as the other.
The band has had to work at their success, ploughing through three years of open mics and self-released material. It is clear from their low-key entrance on to the stage that they do not view tonight as a coronation, that success is not owed to them. They have come to impress. The early triumvirate of “Your Loves Whore“, “Freazy” and “Bros” builds and then rips through the academy. Ellie Rowsell’s dreamy vocals slip between folksy whimsy and screaming, maniacal laughter.
A current self-diagnosed ‘problem’ with the British music scene is the paucity in headline acts. Fresh from a festival season that saw homegrown bands relegated to lesser stages, the hand-wringing has begun and a search currently underway for new weighty talent. Wolf Alice are perhaps best placed to take the mantle. Showing a deftness for audience mechanics that belies their youth, they fly through the retroactively predicted insane banger “Lisbon” and then pull back a little, sinking in to the slow burners of “Silk” and “The Wonderwhy“, with the shimmering mood lighting of their backdrop adjusted accordingly.
Despite the success they’ve had in 2015, there is no complacency or arrogance, as has often blighted young bands. Over an hour, they glide through as varied and beautiful a set as you are likely to hear from a band just three years and one album deep. Shifting tone from melancholic folk, teenage angst and adult anger comes easily. Guitarist Joel Amey’s set piece “Swallowtail” is celebrated in the audience for its maturity but also because it acts as a kind of water break in the back end of the set.
Those who have followed the band since the beginning have watched them equally grow and rebel against their ascension. The rawkus “You’re A Germ” shows them at their most conflicted best, moving through anguished questioning to a snotty f**k-you chorus, and the biggest crowd maelstrom of the night. All the people move out of the way, leaving a circle of space as Rowsell counts up from one, slamming in to one another on her six. All utterly enthralled to the band. Amey once swaggers forward to gesture for more, and once tells us what a big deal it is for them to play here, but really there is no need for contrition – they fill the stage.
Only towards the close do the band seem to accept how well they’ve been received. “Blush“, the second of three encores, is transcendent. “Blush” glows. Its synths curve through everyone in the academy. The wordplay of the chorus (punch drunk/dumbstruck/pot luck/happy happy) is spoken as elegy. And when Rowsell whispers “are you happy now” in the closing bars, it is almost as if in sarcasm.
The epilogue, “Giant Peach” is crowned with bursts of glittering confetti into which crowdsurfing girls fall. The band is finished. They move to the front of the stage and for a moment, block out the audience to group-hug. Momentum built up over three years of graft, accelerated during the summer, has rushed through Brixton. Wolf Alice have achieved something tonight that will last longer than confetti on sweaty skin.
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Words by Bradford Watson