(Photos not great because I forgot my camera and the iPhone couldn’t get close enough on zoom – but hopefully better than nothing!)
On Wednesday I went with my friends Dave and Tony to see Wolf Alice and Idles at the Roundhouse, after the Q magazine awards. In theory Dave and I had seats in the balcony to observe the awards ceremony, but the stationary queue put me off when I arrived and we settled for a beer in the Oxford Arms in Camden High Street before our customary Japanese at Sushi Salsa on Camden Lock before a concert in these parts. Highly recommended!
Wolf Alice are a band that I love. Idles are a band that I admire, particularly live, though there is only so much of their relentlessness that I can take in one go. Wolf Alice have just won the Mercury Music Prize for their second album, “Visions of a Life”. I was really pleased to see them get the prize: first for their own sake, but second because it’s about bloody time an indie band got recognised. For too long the judges have been trying to show how cool they are, and indie guitar rock probably hasn’t been cool in the eyes of the media since the Strokes released their first album “Is This It?” in 2001.
Idles as support had a fairly short set. They were shrouded in shadow a lot of the time, and the thing that stood out was the big screen with their name on it. They were their usual in-yer-face selves – one guitarist in his underwear, the other a throw back to the 70s, bassist straight out of ZZ Top, vocalist Adam Talbot declamatory. My favourite lines are still those in “Mother”, my favourite song: the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich! They are a great live band, no doubt. Dave thought their look was a bit mixed up. I said that was a good thing. They don’t conform to a uniform look. Punk but not punk.
Wolf Alice were on another level. They just get better and better. This is the fifth time I’ve seen them, and I can say unequivocally that it was the best yet – and that is against a high bar. Clearly buoyed up by the Mercury Award and Best Live Act in the Q Awards too. They played a set evenly balanced between their two albums. First album “”My Love Is Cool” is the poppier, the one with the best tunes. Number two is deeper, veering into 70s rock, but very rewarding as the layers are revealed. And live, it really comes alive.
The opening four songs were awesome. All real favourites – of mine, and the crowd. “Your Love’s Whore” got things going – an anthem. Then the punk thrash of “Yuk Foo” and the punk pop of “You’re a Germ” – both great rock’n’roll songs. And they were followed by one of the true pop songs, “Don’t Delete the Kisses”. This one got some of the women climbing on shoulders and showing their appreciation. I still think the beat resembles something from the Pet Shop Boys.
Ellie Rowsell is undeniably the focus of the band on stage – singer, guitarist, icon. She chose a grey suit for this show – with the regulation DMs, as far as I could tell. She’s a great singer, able to sing beautifully and to give it a good rant where necessary. And like the whole band, with the experience they now have, she exudes a real confidence. The musicianship was top notch: they rocked but did the subtleties just as well. They have got it all.
It was all so good, but I have to give special mentions to “Fluffy” which is such a great tune, with great live dynamics; and “Visions of a Life”, the long piece, the title track of the second album, which is the epitome of the 70s rock sound. On record, I didn’t really warm to it initially – there was a bit too much Black Sabbath and even a touch of the dreaded prog in there. But last night really revealed its strengths. The band really went for it. The guitars were rocking. The drums were pounding. Heads were banging. It was the evening’s highlight. Live comes alive!
I can’t now remember which song prompted Ellie to wade into the crowd and do a bit of surfing, but it was probably “Visions of a Life”. Couple of photos here.
A truly exhilarating experience, even up in the comfortable seats with our pints of Red Stripe. Wolf Alice are now unquestionably one of the best bands around.