Review and photos by Stefania Ianne
During the summer, I was given the opportunity to interview singer and keyboard player Hayden Thorpe and multi-instrumentalist Tom Fleming of British band Wild Beasts before the release of their latest album Boy King in August. After a pleasant conversation with both in a hipster North London pub, as I was not too familiar with the band, I could not but go and see Wild Beasts live as soon as the opportunity arose. That was for their second date at the historical Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London. It was a pleasant and dry autumn evening, when, while collecting my ticket at the entrance, I caught a glimpse of the band arriving in style in a vintage customised car with amazing floating suspensions and the futuristic android of Boy King’s cover featured heavily on the side of the vehicle: they stop the traffic with their presence, a nice touch.
Just before leaving to go to the venue, I had discovered that the gig would be opened by Money, a trendy Northern band hailing from Manchester. Even if they are one of the most popular indie bands in England, I am not happy about the discovery, mostly because I had seen them play a rather disappointing gig in the summer. Money can be identified mainly with Jamie Lee, singer and songwriter, despite the presence on stage of a full rock band with two musicians playing classical instruments. Greeting us with a permanently smiling face and a beer bottle firmly lodged in his hands – and for the final number dangerously stuffed in the pocket of his shirt – Lee tells us stories of depression ‘up North’, as elucidated in the lyrics of ‘You Look Like A Sad Painting On Both Sides Of The Sky’. When I first listened to Money in the summer, they seemed far too pop for my taste, but tonight, instead, their music sounds tormented on the Roundhouse stage, closer to The Smiths than to the turbulent, smug Oasis of the Gallagher brothers. My only reproach is that their gig is far too short, although intense. As in August, their performance ends with ‘A Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year’, adding to the mix a touch of frenzied despair in the style of The Pogues. The tune works much better in autumn temperatures than during the hottest days of summer.
After the interval, we are in for a treat, as the show put on by Wild Beasts is well choreographed and prepared in every detail. Their look onstage is low key, guy-next-door look, just like when I met them. The setup of the band on stage is symmetrical, with drummer Chris Talbot on a raised platform hidden at the back, between large rectangular sets of LED spotlights: you can sense immediately that he does not like to have the attention on him. Tom Fleming and main guitarist Ben Little are positioned to the right and left of the stage, respectively, occasionally playing synthesisers sideways. Lead singer Hayden Thorpe is mainly footloose, and occasionally on bass. He reminds us that it’s been ten years since their outrageously titled ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ debut single was released, and tells us: ‘If ten years ago someone had told me that in ten years I would not have been able to sing ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ but I would find myself in this situation, I would have said: fuck yeah!’. The assuredness of tonight’s gig proves that the band has made it, and is certainly idolised on this side of the Channel, and increasingly elsewhere too. Compared to their recordings, their live guitars are hugely enhanced. Fleming seems to prefer a number of guitars to his synthesiser. One of them clearly spells, in a fuchsia outline, ‘fuck the patriarchy!’. I wonder how many people actually can notice the message, let alone process it.
In my view, the strength of Wild Beasts – apart from the hard work they put into their profession – is the presence of two very good voices, when most bands cannot even boast one good singer. Thorpe and Fleming have totally different voices – more delicate and nuanced the first, an assertive baritone the latter – and they exploit their voices’ differences with variety and interesting results. During the concert, they take turns at the lead singing and they chase each other harmoniously and inventively. The performance is powered by a well-orchestrated light show and the backdrop is dominated by the eerie eyes of the Boy King android. Despite the countless brazenly erotic and spirited songs performed tonight (at one point Fleming matter-of-factly asks us: ‘do you want another song about fucking?’ getting a crazy ‘yeah!’ response from the audience), it is the most musically intimate and sensual songs to stand out, especially ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues’, ‘Hooting & Howling’ and ‘Celestial Creatures’. Pity that, in my view, Thorpe’s gentle falsetto was too often overshadowed by the music during the performance.
- Tough Guy
- We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues
- A Simple Beautiful Truth
- Reach a Bit Further
- He the Colossus
- Hooting & Howling
- Lion’s Share
- Big Cat
- Alpha Female
- Get My Bang
- The Devil’s Palace
- Celestial Creatures
- All the King’s Men