A LIVE REVIEW
26th February 2022
Saturday night marked a live performance from a band that has been making bigger and bigger waves recently. There were high expectations throughout the cavernous Norwich venue that night, and also a sense of full confidence that Wolf Alice wouldn’t let us down.
Support came from Matt Maltese, who performed with a drummer and bass guitarist. The small ensemble were very skilled and focused, but relatively mellow. Although they appeared a little introverted and could have engaged more with their expectant audience, they provided a good base to ease us into the evening. Matt’s a great pianist and has a very good voice, too – a smooth baritone.
He ended his short set with an engaging performance of ‘As The World Caves In’ (throwing in a surprise by skilfully beginning it with a snippet from the Succession theme). It’s a moving song, and it was a thoughtfully delivered performance, capturing attention and holding it to the last note. Then, Matt said a few brief words of thanks and left the stage swiftly.
There was a real buzz as the stage was reset by a surprisingly large team. You can tell that Wolf Alice have reached the next level of rock stardom by the number of guitars in the racks, and the number of roadies and stage hands helping out. The guitar tech got a big cheer for his quick tune up and test of Ellie’s black strat and her pedal board … Then the activity ceased and we were into those last few minutes of waiting, which can seem to stretch out with the anticipation …
It’s always a special moment when a headlining band first appears on stage, their faces full of determined excitement as the fans react to their first sight of them. On Saturday, Wolf Alice walked on stage seemingly with an air of awareness of all that’s been happening to them recently, and those waves they are riding; there was a definite infusion of cool confidence, but without cockiness. This was a date towards the end of their long-awaited tour, and the thrill and novelty of finally being able to do this again was clearly still there for the band – they still had lots of energy in reserve
Theo appeared, raising his arms at the crowd, playing the role of hype man to a tee. Joff came on with his usual modest swagger, and Joel got himself seated, clearly buzzing with energy. Ellie slipped on stage quietly, but soon transformed into a bit of a goddess – shredding her guitar in full-on guitar hero style, singing in a focused, passionate way, holding the notes long with touches of vibrato, pushing, staying on track, despite the noise of a thousand fans singing along.
The opening songs of the set were a masterpiece of curation, hitting the audience with a wave of noise, setting the scene and leaving no doubt in our minds that this band meant serious business. First up, ‘Smile’, played at full blast, straight in with the energy, no need to waste time warming up. Then it was 110% no nonsense, ‘You’re a Germ’ followed by ‘Formidable Cool’. That’s a set of songs covering a six-year period, sitting together like they were from the same record. Wolf Alice are at the point where they can draw confidently from a solid back catalogue, mixing and matching at will from a strong palette.
Then came three slightly slower numbers – ‘Delicious Things’ and ‘Lipstick on the Glass’ from Blue Weekend (2021), and ‘Planet Hunter’ from Visions of a Life (2017) – before launching into a superb, upbeat rendition of ‘Bros’.
For the rest of the set, the band carried on with this pattern of carefully created energy levels, dipping in and out of their previous releases, creating a really lovely feeling of ebb and flow. Of course, with an audience like this one, there was not much chance of putting a foot wrong. But all the same, a lot of effort is needed to create a properly coherent set; the band had been doing their homework; there was no sense that they were just throwing out the crowd-pleasers.
Theo announced the next song as a “campfire moment”, and out came the phone lights for ‘Safe From Heartbreak’, which eased into ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ Atmospheric is not the word – it was a truly joyous few minutes of shared experience.
After that, a pretty mad version of ‘Play The Greatest Hits’, which was performed a lot faster than the album recording, and sounding a lot dirtier and much more raw. The band took the opportunity to use the dynamics of the live experience to make the most of songs like this – there’s more room in that environment to experiment, using the span of the stage and the buzz of the audience to find something different in a song, and Wolf Alice obviously know and love this aspect of their band life. They also came across as supremely capable from start to end, handling each moment confidently, but staying totally connected with their audience.
‘Feeling Myself’ was a stand out song. There was a bit less of the warm, enveloping feeling of the album version (no strings, less reverb); instead, the band made the most of some really deep, throbbing bass notes – and of course Ellie’s versatile vocals – to create huge sensuality. Some bands produce great records but fall a bit flat live, unable to perform at the same level without the support of production techniques – with Wolf Alice it’s the other way around. The records are great, but they’re a band born to play live, and they thrive on the reality of a gig.
A few songs later, an amazing moment as Ellie announced “a volunteer to play guitar”, helped a fan onto stage and handed over her guitar. This fan – who turned out to be a 17-year-old called Lauren – then proceeded to absolutely rip through ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’, including nailing an awesome guitar solo. Lauren was clearly thrilled by this chance, and had everyone’s full support. This was a lovely touch of humanity and connection.
Ellie took a breather after that, perching stage-front to sing an intimate version of ‘No Hard Feelings’. That could have been a neat way to round out the set, finishing gently but memorably, fading into the night. But instead, the band launched into one of my favourites, ‘Giant Peach’: this is a song built around some immensely satisfying power-chord based guitar riffs, a thrilling build, and some visceral vocal moments, and even after an hour on stage there was more than enough energy left in the band’s batteries to do this one justice. They obviously wanted to go out on a high, and that is absolutely what they did.
Of course, it wasn’t really finished there – we all knew there’d be an encore, with a couple of must-play songs not yet heard. In front of an excited and unleashed crowd, singing along to every word, the band was always going to struggle to bring out all the subtleties of ‘Last Man On The Earth’ , but it held its own, becoming more anthemic in this setting.
Then it was ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’, again transformed by audience participation into something a bit different – or perhaps it’s better to say that something at the core of the song was revealed in this setting – a triumphant, joint celebration of life and love in all its stages.
And that really was the end. It was one of those gigs that you’d be more than happy to relive all over again tomorrow.
You’re a Germ
Lipstick on the Glass
Safe From Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love)
How Can I Make It OK?
Play the Greatest Hits
Visions of a Life
Moaning Lisa Smile
No Hard Feelings
The Last Man on Earth
Don’t Delete the Kisses
Words and photo by Phil Taylor