Wolf Alice – Live in 2022

As far back as the tale of Romulus and Remus, and much further should an inquisitive mind wish to look, wolves have been emblematic of all that has been...
Wolf Alice : Live
Wolf Alice : Live

As far back as the tale of Romulus and Remus, and much further should an inquisitive mind wish to look, wolves have been emblematic of all that has been misread by tame societies as danger. Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, many fables by Aesop, and even our modern-day Game of Thrones have done much to characterize the spirit of this creature in a complicated light that has led to actual physical endangerment for the animal itself in nature. In reality and pre-Christian chronicles, wolves are symbolic of guardianship, reflective of ritual, and always associated with the most durable kinds of loyalty. They are among nature’s most instinctual and intelligent animals. It was these sterling qualities that British author Angela Carter chose to infuse into a character she created for a series of dark fairytales entitled The Bloody Chamber – a character called “Wolf Alice” who nurtures her dying vampire love across the rainbow to a mortal death that would inevitably free him from suffering. The stouthearted London band that would go on to take their name from this same intuitive inamorata, Wolf Alice, wound their wolf-witchery through every atom of air at The Buckhead Theatre on Monday, March 21st, when they graced Atlanta with the first headline gig of their Spring 2022 North American tour in support of their already-immortal third album, Blue Weekend (QRO review).

For those who have yet to properly imprint on this pack of protean pelts, Wolf Alice formed in 2010 around the acoustic alchemy of singer Ellie Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie, who is currently absent from the Blue Weekend tour due to unexpected familial obligations in Cornwall. He is being stood-in for on this leg by the equally gifted Joe Keefe. With the 2012 additions of the spritely Theo Ellis (QRO interview) bringing bass and bitchin’ energy together like none before him and Joel Amey perched with all the unaffected cool of a Mafia prince atop the kit, Wolf Alice as the daydream-on-a-trampoline grunge unit that they are today became official. They are being rounded out on this tour by the sizable contributions of the immensely talented Ryan Malcom on keys and backing vocals as well.

Along the way from first single “Fluffy” in 2013 through to partnerships with Chess Club Records and onward to getting signed by Dirty Hit in 2014, Wolf Alice has garnered unsolicited titles such as “U.K.’s Most Blogged About Band” from BBC Radio on their home turf and “England’s Best Band” by New Jersey Advance Media in the States, and “Band of the Year” by GQ in 2021.

There is hefty reason behind these ongoing avalanches of accolades. Wolf Alice is like Drop D and distortion on sleeping pills and morning champers, telling fractured fairy tales full of slow-pitched questions about gnarly life and gnawing love – and there is positively nothing domesticated, brought to heel, or scented with submission anywhere in their resonance. Theirs is a high-modernist take on seismic grunge like Magnapop was. The experience of it across all three of their albums feels very like when Marc Jacobs brought flannel subculture to the runway for the first time – everything changed that day. In the hybrid etymologies from which they draw their own sounds, you will hear nothing in Wolf Alice that you have ever heard elsewhere, but they will cause you to actively remember beautiful sounds made by bands from similar forests. Transviolet and Daughter may slink along similar footpaths in places, but not with the same ferocity.

Wolf Alice’s debut album My Love Is Cool was captured to cinematic profundity by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) in a bespoke docu-folktale called On The Road centering on the final tour for that record, and the film’s romantic interweaving of fact and fiction is as much an ode to the mythic mysticism from which Wolf Alice derives their name as it is about the shimmering visions they sing about. By the time second album Visions of a Life (QRO review) was to reach the same stage, Wolf Alice had completed an awe-instilling 187-date world tour that cemented their stature as one of the most internationally electrifying bands Britain has produced in some time. Thus, when Blue Weekend rolled around with RCA backing, that album exerted rightful dominance over every Best Of list put out by practically every music publication worth its ink at the end of 2021 (QRO Top Albums of 2021), its release year.

Beyond lyrical panache and melodic plurality to spare, Wolf Alice has another, far more sharp-fanged element at its core, causing all of this combustibility to burn every bit as hot as it does bright: a bona-fide wolf woman at its helm. For all that My Love Is Cool made possibly unintentional reference to the way Wolf Alice songs exist in choral climes and sonic economies that lesser songs couldn’t – like cold-water invertebrates, but with nothing malformed – Ellie Rowsell is the kind of blonde that is built on a chassis of fire, not the more culturally popularized “ice.” Her harmonic dynamics are those of home-made explosives and lyric summers, rapturous and rapacious, but everything with a Lupercalian salt glow. She is all the most soft-treading and sorcerous mixtures of Kim Gordon, Nancy Wilson, and Kat Bjelland.

Theo Ellis

All of Rowsell’s communicative howls serve as some form of a summons and house a tenor of investigation directed at all versions of herself – all the way back to Islington – as well as anyone else within earshot. Listening through the Wolf Alice catalog, one quickly realizes that she gives you at least one guttural climb per chorus, finding a new folk demon in the human side of lycanthropy every time.

Both conceptually and vertically, Blue Weekend brings the characteristically frilled frisson of Wolf Alice to a new stratosphere of swansdown swoon-worthiness, each element of their transportive signature watercolor-petals of audio-velour carrying something equivalently heady to Metallica’s in-house whiskey, intoxicants maturated with their patented “Black Noise” treatment wherein even the barrels containing it display a coloration difference wrought by the process. In a track such as “Beach II”, that color matches the pink seas of Lagos and the Karelian coast if they were mixed to Van Gogh levels of swirled turbulence.

The term “she-wolf” was once a pejorative for a woman who dared to read scents on thermal airs without male permission, figuratively speaking, while the “wolf” nickname for men commonly referred to a wooing womanizer or lone lothario as illustrated in The Wolf Of Wall Street. No doubt it remains so amongst the piteous whelps and jackals still licking their faux-masculinity mange even at this late date, though “she-wolf” was long ago gallantly reclaimed by feminist scholars such as Camille Paglia to become now the penultimate praise of a woman who wends her own wander through the weald. Never has that rebranded moniker carried such a connotation of compliment as it does in Rowsell’s way of owning it. How arrestingly she balances and retracts those previously patronizing scales, and does it all with the obliterating sneak of a jewel thief – or…a wolf.

It is in songs like “Lipstick On The Glass” – a racy, near-Rabelaisian sonnet of mea culpas for all breeds of human-canid cognates, both real and imagined – wherein one can best observe what Wolf Alice draws in terms of elegant archetypal power from their unique interaction with even the dreaded were-counterparts of their sonic species. There is so much of bestial moons, emotional phasing, and other unbidden transformations within this and every song on Blue Weekend.

Five full years in the making, Blue Weekend is auditorily decadent in the way of Henry Cyril Paget, a man as famous for sleeping in his opulent headdresses and silk butterfly wings as he was for mortgaging his manse to pay for lavish soirees still written about to this day. Rather than the commonplace cobalt misery, Blue Weekend nurtures a more aquamarine trend of tristesse. There is a thylacine genius in Wolf Alice having led this album’s release with a downbeat single like “The Last Man On Earth”, a song soaked to the hackles in offset nostalgia, sung like a counter-curse on the man in question, and born to be the bookend of every show.

Speaking of shows, Wolf Alice puts on one worthy of their lupine legend. Like any good host, Atlanta came prepared for the Wolf Alice party, proudly displaying a full-sized black-and-white billboard photo of Rowsell, full-moon-high and directly beside The Buckhead Theatre, by way of hospitable greeting. They promptly demonstrated that the height and width of their onstage presence dwarfs any billboard with zero effort. Having spent the previous twelve years taking every gig, having opened for the likes of Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, and Liam Gallagher, having just played Tampa’s Innings Festival, and having well and truly not come off the road for any discernible amount of time since Blue Weekend’s release, Wolf Alice have long since developed a taste for tour-blood that has turned their live performances into turnkey tour-de-forces.

Ellie Rowsell

In person, Ellie Rowsell is as much a sonic mosaicist as she is a preternaturally powerful singer. Her voice will come baying out over her monitors and slam you straight in the chest with its volcanic terrains without so much as a by-your-leave. This lucky collision does not sting in the slightest, but rather feels like having your sound-sense wrapped in a Binchotan towel: all impurities are drawn out at contact and you experience a kind of instantaneous dream-drunkenness akin to intaking an aural Galician fire drink. This desirable effect takes over at once when Wolf Alice skin-dive straight into “Smile”, which Rowsell snarls out with the grimace of a seasoned cornerboy and then siphons into a bundle of sun-borne sighs.

To step from that, seamlessly, into the sirenic scream-symphony of “You’re a Germ” is a forceful reminder that any band actively citing The Vines as an influence that can then go on to prove it, en forme, should have your vote forever and certainly does mine. “Delicious Things” tantalized treats both sour and saccharine with its showcasing of the raw acres in Rowsell’s samphire-infused vox, and the exact locales where the steely whimsy becomes savage – like a night vigil becoming a night hunt.

Ethereal compositions like “How Can I Make It Ok” have a dangerous splendor live, gainsaying you with their natural neap tides. It is impossible to tell Rowsell’s high and low tones from one another, so glassine go her growl-to-supracanine glissandos. She can sound like a silver-gilt bubble in a song like fan-favorite “Bros” and rip right over to her radioactive roar in “Moaning Lisa Smile”, in which she makes inchoate vocalizations into morphiate bon mots and droll anecdotes that pour out like colloidal gold.

Giant Peach” comes in winching its frosted grenades and casting fleering White Wolf enchantments over the scuzzy boutiques we inhabit with lovers we don’t yet fully see and the ravening impulses we all inevitably succumb to with the wrong people when we are pups. This song’s cadence and the manner in which it highlights Rowsell’s echo-laced vocal acrobatics and fat internal harmonies can put one in mind of the way that Robert Johnson used to turn toward the wall to create his own reverb. It has that kind of gatch.

Blowing sonic-narcotic kisses goodbye with the song that changed it all for them, “Don’t Delete the Kisses”, Wolf Alice made their retreat with every ounce the lingering mystique that had alerted their entrance, their after-effect like a Dire Wolf you’re not quite sure you saw hidden amid the blackberry blossoms within a gothic garden.

Joe Keefe

Treasured by wild women the world over, Jungian psychologist Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes knows and has written much about the Women Who Run With The Wolves throughout many histories and cultures. In her studied opinion, “it is a blessing to have the archaeology of the fairy tale to learn from,” because, “fairy tales and mythos are initiators; they are the wise ones who teach those who have come after.” The vitality in these verses for a band like Wolf Alice is double-fold as their sound world is both innately feral and resurrectional. They wear only a woodsy collar of laurel, studded to numinosity with every form of recognition a band of their age could glean, and many that no band at their level of experience ever has.

Wolf Alice is currently the only band in existence for whom every single record released to date has been nominated for a Mercury Prize, Visions of a Life having clutched that trophy for them in 2017. They are fresh off their February “Best Group” win at the 2022 BRIT Awards and have been carried into this night-blooming jasmine period of their career on the good steed perseverance. None of this formidable cool they are keen to talk about and all of it they sport only as an underfur of gratitude, shielding their pack and its original artistic pacts from the wrong kind of were-changes as they now navigate the engine room of the elite everywhere they go. Don’t miss any chance to hole up in a den with their din.

Wolf Alice remains on the lupine tour prowl as of this publication and all the way through the end of November this year. They will be heading to the mystical land of Oz at the end of April for a Sydney-slaying set and a triplicate of alpha appearances at all three dates of the nation-defining bash that is Groovin The Moo and then roving back to North America this autumn.

Wolf Alice

Setlist

  1. Smile
  2. You’re A Germ
  3. Formidable Cool
  4. Delicious Things
  5. Planet Hunter
  6. Bros
  7. Safe From Heartbreak (If You Never Fall In Love)
  8. How Can I Make It Ok?
  9. Play The Greatest Hits
  10. Silk
  11. Visions Of A Life
  12. Moaning Lisa Smile
  13. No Hard Feelings
  14. Giant Peach

Encore

The Last Man on Earth
Don’t Delete The Kisses

Wolf Alice

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