Wolf Alice bassist Theo Ellis did time at Alexandra Park School, just round the corner from tonight’s iconic venue — Ally Pally; the people’s palace. Down the hill, he shared a house with guitarist Joff Oddie in Seven Sisters. Singer-guitarist Ellie Rowsell is from nearby Holloway. Drummer-singer Joel Amey is the adopted fourth member of this strange little rock ’n’ roll family. When Rowsell sings in ‘Bros’ “oh jump that 43, are you wild like me, raised by wolves and other beasts” it could almost refer to the teenagers who’ve made their way to Alexandra Palace tonight, perhaps on that 43 bus.
Ellis is the rabble-rouser. He asks for a pint to be passed to him from the bar at the back, a hundred metres and 10,000 people away. The audience sing, clap and scream while feral circle pits open and close; and moshing, crowd surges and pogoing intensify. “Thank you north London, this was a dream come true,” Ellis says.
Wolf Alice never stop developing, making older tracks fresh and vibrant. Jeopardy is introduced for ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ as the band ask teenager Jade from Teddington (“south of the river”) on stage to play Rowsell’s guitar part, including the solo. The band had tweeted on 21st November: “Ok gals who wants to shred for us on moaning Lisa smile at ally pally? Send us ur vids with rhythm n the solo to firstname.lastname@example.org“. The result is wonderful and heartwarming. “What a fucking legend,” says Oddie.
Ok gals who wants to shred for us on moaning Lisa smile at ally pally? Send us ur vids with rhythm n the solo to email@example.com ❤ pic.twitter.com/yuLUnrROQ8
— wolf alice (@wolfalicemusic) November 21, 2017
Angry little first single ‘Fluffy’ has grown a dark new tail. Just as the familiar anti-folk/grunge song ends, the rhythm section shouts out a “one, two, three, four” and the track resumes with a full-blown, rock-out to end the main set. A massive backdrop of album-related artwork is often coloured beautiful shades of purple and green (to match the folky ‘St Purple & Green’), pink, red, blue and pale white. As if by magic, the backdrop disappears behind bright curtains of lighting during older songs.
Wolf Alice turn on a sixpence — switching from heavenly to visceral, sensitive to bludgeoning, soft to heavy, fast to slow; and singing sadly about happiness. Power is restrained and unleashed through tight arrangements and dynamic shifts. Even ‘Space & Time’— perhaps the fastest, simplest track on new album ‘Visions Of A Life’ — has a sudden moment of quiet introspection. Tonight’s opening few songs veer from heartbreaking and spellbinding, to spitting hammer-machine anger, to vengefully triumphant singalong. Tracks are cool yet passionate, spacey but intense, or private and personal at the same time as being danceable and poppy.
Encore opener ‘Blush’ is typically emotive, with a delicate start giving way to wave after wave of guitars, bass and potent drums, building to a wall of noise, until the song gently reclines and Rowsell’s voice cracks with controlled emotion amid mirror ball lighting. The three mirror balls first sparkle early on, to adorn ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’, giving the crowd a camera phone moment, with Rowsell vulnerably holding the microphone a few steps back from its stand. Wolf Alice play all but two tracks from the new album, but the crowd welcomes these new songs like old friends.
Mild mannered, quiet Oddie looks conventional, but is a man possessed with a guitar in his hands. He throws it six foot in the air during ‘Giant Peach’ and heavier parts of ‘Lisbon’. In the punkoid rush of ‘Space & Time’, rather than pick or strum, he swings the guitar around by its neck, chucks it, rubs it on monitors and whacks it into his amp. Yet, somehow, his pedals conjure magical sounds from the abused guitar.
The rampaging Oddie and strutting Ellis turn briefly to concentrate on keyboards on a few tracks, adding to the band’s increasingly expansive sound. Amey sings backing vocals harmoniously while pounding his kit with ruthless efficiency and deep musical skill. He’s developed a dramatic knack for creating a sudden lift in timbre to take the percussion from already loud to another level.
At the centre stands Rowsell, fast becoming an iconic and charismatic performer. Her vocals are flawless and restless — reverberating with vibrato through the second mic, hitting seraphic highs, serenading imaginary partners, mesmerically using spoken voice, screaming and shrieking. She is angel and devil, lover and monster. On guitar, her rhythm playing and solos brilliantly complement Oddie’s effects. Rowsell’s smallest glance or frown projects throughout the massive auditorium, and not just because two huge screens show close ups.
Air canons blast silver ticker tape into the air to the monster riff of ‘Giant Peach’ as Rowsell rushes back from the crowd at the barrier, bows gracefully, throws herself up into Oddie’s arms and wraps her legs around him. The joyful band take a last look out over the shimmering crowd, wave and turn to pose for group photos. It feels like the beginning of something even bigger than ‘Visions Of A Life’.
Wolf Alice setlist at Alexandra Palace:
You’re a Germ
Your Loves Whore
St. Purple & Green
Don’t Delete The Kisses
Space & Time
Moaning Lisa Smile (with teenager Jane from Teddington playing Ellie’s guitar part)
Visions Of A Life