They’re popular in Oxford, Wild Beasts. People are excited: drinking fast, discussing whether they’ll play their favourite.
Money are on before – an orchestral six-piece you can’t help but watch. As the women on strings sling blue WKDs, I have a sense that I should have been more prepared for them than I am. Like a why didn’t you warn me it was formal dress, kind of thing. The lead singer works up a Doghterty-esque fervor as he sings about all things that are life at its closest to death. Money certainly aren’t a forgettable support act.
There’s a lengthy break where some decent remixes are played and everyone urges further forward. With the revving of some pretty glam lighting, Wild Beasts take to the stage. They kick off with the opener of their new album, ‘Boy King’. ‘Big Cat’ is undeniably a tune and Wild Beasts show up with the swagger to pull it off. What’s immediately clear, because of the lively lighting, because of their boyish energy, is that they know how to create an atmosphere.
The mood is kept high as they propel into ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues’, off 2009’s ‘Two Dancers’. It was this track that got them noticed by the critics, and tonight’s crowd is equally receptive. Hayden Thorpe’s voice sounds as majestic as it does on the recording, though there’s something altogether new to the presence of Wild Beasts tonight. Are they the same ‘kids… cold and cagey rattling around the town’? I’m not so sure. They seem to have moved on to bolder, sweatier versions of themselves.
We’re raced through raunchy ‘Ponytail’, where some of the subtleties to Thrope’s voice get lost, to two year’s past of ‘Present Tense’. ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ shows Ben Little’s voice at its best, paired down. By its fade out, we’ve relaxed into the show enough for it to feel like time out of our own present tenses. And, with dark denim, trench coats and neon lights a-plenty, we really could be in a different decade altogether. Put nicely, Wild Beasts do tailored retro. Put less nicely, they look like a Topman window display.
No question – they’re a hit. ‘Mecca’ and ‘Lion’s Share’, especially, get people moving. ‘Lion’s Share’ is detailed and layered; we’re able to witness where their sound can go. The chant-like ‘What are you waiting for?’ comes full of impact, accompanied by rolling drums. But, whether it’s the length of the set, the lack of relief in between songs, or the fact that a lot of the songs do genuinely sound similar, the second half of the gig begins to feel a bit generic.
Aside from the haunting tone of their voices, of which the effect wears off after a while, it’s difficult to see what distinguishes them from other indie rock bands. Though, granted, it’s not through a lack of trying. Despite best intentions, ‘Alpha Female’ — where Thorpe vows ‘I would not hold you back’ — comes over patronising. They’re in full stride with ‘Tough Guy’, where the clarity of sound is impressive, just about trumping their bravado.
After a brief exodus, the group play a three-song encore. And, funnily enough, it’s their last song that ends up stealing the show. ‘All The King’s Men’, where Little pleads ‘Watch me, watch me!’ at the top of his range, is totally unique. It’s these glimmers of genius that persuade me to continue ‘watching’ out for Wild Beasts in the future.