Bodies crammed together in a tiny space, the air reeking with booze and heat. Your eyes wander across the room, catch a face, then slip onto the next. The anticipation is staggering, building up way higher than the low-set ceiling at XOYO this evening.
Tonight the Shoreditch club happens to be the venue of something much bigger than just another low-scale concert. As London quartet Wolf Alice takes to stage in the dingy venue, we are about to get an insight into the future of British guitar music. Turns out, rock isn’t quite dead after all.
“First of all, it was fun!’
Set to play the crown jewel, Alexandra Palace, later this autumn, one may ask why Wolf Alice chose to have their album release gig at a small East London club – much like one might ask why they – when testing new material earlier this year – chose to do so at pubs and local venues across the country, when most bands of their calibre would go for something more up-scale.
The answer bassist Theo Ellis gave me earlier this year was simple: small venues are what they are used to.
“It’s where we’ve played most of our shows for about four to five years,” he said. “So it would’ve been really weird for us to just come back and suddenly play these really big shows without having got used to the songs. We hadn’t played for a long time really, so first of all it was fun...”
But it isn’t just real-time rehearsal that’s the allure for the band. Many acts these days choose to do smaller scale gigs, often because they crave the intimacy and freedom that these shows give. Peace did a run of small venues back in 2014, and when Vant choose to take a break, their goodbye-for-now tour also took place in low-key venues.
The closeness is the key, and as I’m pushed up against the people at the front row, I feel the burning excitement of real live music once more. Named the best British live band by NME in 2016, it comes as no surprise that Wolf Alice knows exactly what they’re doing. All eyes are on lead singer, Ellie Rowsell, as she heads into ‘Heavenward’, the opener of their immense new album Visions Of A Life, the release of which is being celebrated tonight.
Moving on, the band then delivers the infuriating Yuk Foo followed by the slick riffs of Formidable Cool during which Rowsell roars:
“That’s all he fucking did when he fucked you on the floor”
Every cut is delivered with passion and a savvy live presence, but during the lead-single ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ it all comes to an abrupt stop. Rowsell obviously struggles with the vocals to the point of painful frustration before cutting off the tune, asking “could we turn vocals down, not up please.” She follows up with, “I’m sorry, I just really care about this song and want to get it right”. And she really does. The stunning complexity of the heart-breaking love song fills the room, and yet at the end, it proves a little too much as Rowsell tears up.
The touch of emotion in the middle of it all is raw and almost haunting. Being able to share every significant detail of the show is something rarely found at big venues. As a performer, you are a lot more exposed and vulnerable at a small venue, and yet that’s some of the magic.
Wolf Alice round of their set with a fine balance of fresh cuts and old classics. As the eternal anthem of any restless teen, ‘Giant Peach’ fades out, it feels like more than just any gig.
Seeing one of Britain’s most daring indie band is great in itself, but as I’m jumping around with likeminded music lovers, it feels like a musical awakening. I once again remember why I love live music.
Live photos courtesy of Kasia Osowiecka