This week I’ve been to two outstanding concerts. On Tuesday it was Wolf Alice at the Forum in Kentish Town. Last night, Chvrches at the Royal Albert Hall.
I went to Wolf Alice with my friend Jon G (I have lots of friends called Jon – it’s easy to talk to us in a group because you only have to remember one name!). We booked seats (actually a bench, but a comfortable one) in the circle and made the effort to get there for the support bands as it sounded like Wolf Alice were getting some good people in.
So, armed with pints of San Miguel, we found a spot in time for first support Bloody Knees. Not the greatest name, but a good band. Nirvana a clear influence, but a bit faster. The singer was tall, had a good head of hair, and loved shaking it about. T-Shirt came off after a few songs. Just about carried it off. They were pretty good, but will have a lot of competition with that sound.
Next up were Swim Deep. I saw them on the Lake Stage at Latitude in 2013. Thought they were good then, with hints of Razorlight and The Strokes. And I liked the singer’s claret and blue Fender, even though it was Aston Villa rather than West Ham. At the Forum they had clearly moved on. The sound was more varied, and fuller. The Maccabees came to mind. It was decent set. Not enough to make me rush back and download their music, but enough to merit a listen on Spotify. My only criticism: most of the band were wearing flares! And oversized shirts. Please, no, this cannot be a new fashion!
And then Wolf Alice. Jon and I and our kids saw them in the 6 Music tent at Latitude in 2015. They were excellent then and they were even better tonight. Another 8 months on the road, really honing their sound and performance. On top of that, I am now much more familiar with the music. Their debut album, “My Love is Cool”, just missed my top ten last year, though it was easily in Jon’s. But, you know, it would have to be in there now. You can hear the grunge influence, you can hear a bit of My Bloody Valentine; but you can also hear Blondie and even, I thought on Tuesday, when they played the brilliant “You’re a Germ”, Joan Jett. In other words they bring together the hard rocking with a pop sensibility. When the album first came out, I was mildly disappointed because it wasn’t noisier, but as I listened more, I realised how good the songs were, how well-constructed. Full of punching riffs, plenty of screaming, but engaging melodies too. And the latter is probably why their audience is actually quite young. I saw a review that described their music as bubblegrunge. Very clever, and I can see what it was getting at, but also condescending and probably sexist. Because it’s Ellie Rowsell screaming out the choruses, rather than some gruff bloke from Seattle, the implication of that review was that it was lightweight. To which I can only respond, bollocks!
All the favourite songs were there, as you would expect at this stage in their career. My own favourite three are “You’re a Germ”, “Your Love’s Whore” and “Fluffy” (ironic title, I’m sure). But the whole show was dynamic, in-yer-face and perfect for the youth at the front (and quite a way back) to do some serious moshing. Jon and I watched with affection and enjoyed our beers.
A credit to John Victor of Genghar too. The lead guitarist in that band (my favourites of 2015) had stepped in to play bass in Wolf Alice because Theo Ellis had developed a rather nasty elbow infection – shared on Twitter in all its gruesomeness. You wouldn’t have known if you didn’t know the band line up. Seamless transition. Real talent. Gengahr must be big!
A great evening.
And on Thursday, it got even better…
For Chvrches, I was on the lone groove. Inexplicably, I cannot persuade any of my good friends that Chvrches are one of the best bands on the planet and Lauren Mayberry one of the finest singers. Never mind, I love them and am so looking forward to seeing them on the Obelisk stage (the main one) at Latitude on the Saturday this year, second to The National. They will be headliners soon.
Their show was labelled as one of the “Albert Sessions”. The artists haven’t yet headlined the Albert Hall, prices are kept reasonable, and the artists spend some time with students in workshops about their music. An excellent initiative all round, and you can read about it on the link below. There is also a nice selection of photos from the concert – way better than my iPhone efforts from a distance.
Support came from Shura, who played a dreamy sort of electro-dance. I enjoyed it, although stuck behind her machines in what was then a half full Albert Hall, it was hard for her to make a huge impact. The songs were quite long too – mood pieces. I’ll certainly have a listen to her music online.
What I said about Wolf Alice honing their sound on the road applies doubly to Chvrches. Since “The Bones of What you Believe” came out in 2013, they have hardly ever stopped touring and doing the festival circuit. Especially in the USA. And it is paying dividends. Not only in increased popularity, but in their stagecraft. I remember when I saw them at Hammersmith Apollo in 2013 (there is a blog if you want to check it). They were great, but Lauren was fighting through a cold and she was still fairly immobile, clinging on to the leads of her microphone. That rather fragile image worked rather well in juxtaposition to the booming dance and electro beats. But now, all is different. Lauren is dancing, leaping around, standing on podiums, engaging with all the different parts of the audience. A very different performer. The music too, is even more pounding, the dance beats to the fore. The two boys get less attention than Lauren, unsurprisingly, but they are the music-meisters, and play a bit of guitar and bass now. And there have always been a couple of songs when they sing. This is a democratic band, which is still holding back from exploiting Lauren’s obvious beauty. Credit to them all, for that. It’s what tells you they are still, at heart, an indie band rather than a pure pop band. But they have the pop sensibility to make it big time if they want to.
So all the best songs from their two albums got an airing last night. With one exception: one of my two favourite Chvrches tunes, “Lies”, missed out – the other is “Tether”, which was a highlight. The songs from the most recent album, “Every Open Eye”, dominated, of course. But they work superbly live. Especially “Clearest Blue”, which ended the main set. Awesome!
And what an encore. First the lovely “Afterglow” from the latest album. Lauren’s singing at its most beautifully tender. The Albert Hall bathed in blue light and so many people holding their phones with torches on, aloft. Used to be cigarette lighters – no more! An impressive sight, which this photos captures a bit.
And, to end, what better than “The Mother We Share”? This will always be a Chvrches favourite, and it was total celebration. It was the first song at Hammersmith in 2013. It’s song which will always merit an important place in the set. I came out of the venue thinking, this is one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. It was so enjoyable, uplifting. Even if my love for the Chvrches isn’t shared by my friends, I will be there whenever they play in London.
If you haven’t heard them, give Chvrches a listen – and Wolf Alice too – and check both out if they play near you. You won’t be disappointed.