Wolf Alice review – delirious crowd drink in a night of sublime bedlam

O2 Academy, Bournemouth
The three-time Mercury prize nominees seemed stunned by the deafening reception at their first non-socially distanced show in two years

From the second you walk into Bournemouth’s O2 Academy, it’s clear that gigs are not as they once were. An hour before Wolf Alice are due to take the stage for their first full, non-socially distanced live show in nearly two years, the atmosphere already feels more like an evening’s sweaty climax. People are cheering everything, including the roadie who comes on stage to say “one-two-one-two” into the microphones and the music playing through the PA: each song is greeted by a bellow of enthusiasm and a mass singalong.

Under the circumstances, you get the feeling that Wolf Alice could come on stage and read out Stalin’s speech to the 1939 Soviet Communist party congress – in the original Russian – and still get a reaction like the Beatles got at Shea Stadium. Instead, they play a set heavy on songs from their new album: over half of Blue Weekend – nominated, like every album Wolf Alice have thus far released, for the Mercury prize – gets an airing.

It should be a risky move, but the crowd are delirious and the album came out a month ago: long enough for their fans to have memorised every word. The sound of people singing along is every bit as deafening for the songs they’ve never played live before as it is for their biggest hits, while Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall In Love) provokes an outbreak of synchronised arm-waving, which fits the song’s tempo if not its bitter mood (“You fucked with my feelings”).

The songs from Blue Weekend are fantastic, a confident step forward from those on its predecessors. Some of the subtleties get lost in the general bedlam: the punky yelp of Play the Greatest Hits fares substantially better that the lengthy, delicate opening of The Last Man on Earth, which you literally can’t hear over the delighted racket made by the audience. But the strength of Lipstick on the Glass’s Abba-esque melody shines through, as do Feeling Myself’s rousing surges from understated verses to a soaring chorus strafed with echoing, effects-heavy guitar.

Wolf Alice.
Sheer exuberance … Wolf Alice. Photograph: Mark Holloway/Redferns

The band seem justifiably taken aback by quite how vociferous the response is. Singer Ellie Rowsell doesn’t say much but a disbelieving grin keeps creeping across her face, and there’s something fabulously surplus-to-requirements about guitarist Joff Oddie encouraging the audience to sing along or bassist Theo Ellis’s rousing suggestion that they “go fucking mental”.

For the most part, though, they just play, ripping through Bros and Don’t Delete the Kisses, turning the grungey Moaning Lisa Smile into a vast epic. Their attempts to interpolate Space & Time with the Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting for the Man is perhaps a step too far – the latter really isn’t a song that suits Rowsell’s carefully enunciated vocal style and Wolf Alice don’t seem like they spend their spare time being threatened by pimps while trying to score heroin in Harlem. But picking nits feels churlish in such an exuberant atmosphere.

In fact, it’s hard not to feel that the mood in the venue weirdly recalls that at the gigs that took place immediately before lockdown. There’s a slightly manic urgency about it, as if people aren’t just enjoying themselves but have realised that the chances of things continuing like this are pretty slim: they have to enjoy it while they can. Wolf Alice give them plenty of reason.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
On their third and best album, the London four-piece embrace a more polished, widescreen sound that serves their sharp writing on late-20s anxieties

Alexis Petridis

03, Jun, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
Wolf Alice review – ice-cool comeback from indie shapeshifters
The Londoners draw on punk and psychedelia but never lose their tight pop sensibility as they unveil tracks from their new album

Dave Simpson

17, Aug, 2017 @10:29 AM

Article image
Wolf Alice review – sweetness and snarl from indie-rock revolutionaries
Capping a banner year in which they won the Mercury prize, Wolf Alice swerve rock cliche with counter-intuitive songcraft

Rachel Aroesti

20, Dec, 2018 @11:56 AM

Article image
Wolf Alice: Visions of a Life review – exuberant guitar-driven genre jumble
(Dirty Hit)

Gwilym Mumford

28, Sep, 2017 @9:00 PM

Article image
Wolf Alice on the Mercury prize and on-stage marriage proposals
The Mercury prize nominees weighed in on their favourite films, their next album and dressing up for Halloween as Liam Gallagher

Laura Snapes

11, Sep, 2018 @12:39 PM

Article image
Wolf Alice live review – goodbye, cool world
The London four-piece tear up the indie rulebook, combining candyfloss melodies with a feral, steely edge

Ben Thompson

26, Mar, 2016 @6:00 PM

Article image
Wolf Alice; Mens Adventures; Blackeye; Must – review
It's the time of year to talent-spot in tiny venues, says Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

13, Jan, 2013 @12:06 AM

Article image
Mercury prize 2018: Wolf Alice win for Visions of a Life
Genre-hopping rockers claim £25,000 prize for an album the Guardian called ‘an exuberant jumble’

Laura Snapes

20, Sep, 2018 @9:20 PM

Article image
New band of the day (Wolf Alice No 1,510)

Paul Lester: They may be more xx than Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but Wolf Alice are as at home in atmospherica as in folk, grunge and indiepop

Paul Lester

10, May, 2013 @4:41 PM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2021, No 2: Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
The London four-piece emerged from lockdown with a soaring triumph of pop rock, brimming with elegantly polished songwriting and confident ambition

Laura Snapes

16, Dec, 2021 @6:00 AM