London rock outfit Wolf Alice have had an incredible 18 months with what was always going to be the challenging successor to breakaway hit debut record My Love Is Cool. That debut saw the North London-based four-piece realise years of hard work and building up their fan base the old-fashioned way, by release solid cuts and touring heavily.
This led to massive queues to see them perform at record stores in 2015 upon the release of My Love Is Cool before playing acclaimed sets at that summer’s Glastonbury Festival. But it was their distinctive and refreshing sound that saw them reach the BBC’s Sound Of 2015 longlist alongside Stormzy, Years & Years, Sunset Sons and James Bay. Touring My Love Is Cool heavily, they became the darlings of British rock, sweeping up 2016’s festival season.
Following two years of anticipation, Visions Of A Life landed in September 2017 to much critical acclaim and not at all for simply being a continuation of their sound but for taking it to the next level, for innovating while retaining a signature sound and remaining a fun listen. This view across both critics and fans culminated in the record winning this year’s Mercury Music Prize beating off stiff competition from Noel Gallagher, Florence + The Machine, Arctic Monkeys and Jorja Smith.
2018 has seen Foo Fighters asking Wolf Alice along on their mammoth North American stadium tour as well as having them open for one of their huge London Stadium shows over the summer, Dave Grohl making a point of showcasing female-led rock bands on Foo Fighters’ Concrete & Gold tour. Josh Homme’s Queens Of The Stone Age also had them supporting in the US before the returned to the UK to open for Liam Gallagher’s massive Finsbury Park show in June, demonstrating how accustomed they have now become to carrying their live show to large, open stages. All of this alongside their own massive headline tour including a show at London’s Alexandra Palace.
First single from the new record Yuk Foo provides a blistering, ear-splitting punk-rock anthem for the moshers in the Wolf Alice pits, with frontwoman Ellie Rowsell screaming aggressive lyrics at us. But it is the range of songs collected into Visions Of A Life that gives it wings. Second single Don’t Delete The Kisses is a simply fabulous love song with the frontwoman speaking her tale during the verses which are punctuated by shouts of that verses’ sentiment as the chorus, allowing the listener to reminisce on their own early school-days loves, all underpinned by a steady rhythm from drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis.
Planet Hunter has us yearning for 1990’s alt-rock and popular culture’s fascination with extra-terrestrials in what has to be this writer’s favourite song from the record, Rowsell’s delicate vocals resonating over gently strummed guitar reaching a visceral crescendo in its chorus that is immensely satisfying.
Sky Musings uses the spoken word technique once again to describe a panic attack on a plane at 40,000 feet while Formidable Cool delivers an instantly bouncy cut allowing for a mosh-friendly crescendo fully realised as their audiences pogo along from the barrier to the bars at their shows.
By virtue of being a woman fronting an influential British rock band, Rowsell has been handed the mantle of representing empowered women, women with guitars and a culture wishing a shift towards gender equality regardless of whether or not that was ever her desire. But if she is a positive influence, inspiring young girls to pick up a guitar, then all the better for the future of music.
From the outside it’s easy to dismiss Wolf Alice simply a moniker for frontwoman Ellie Rowsell, but that would be to do a massive disservice to the band, Rowsell included. Here are a coherent, tight unit who feed off each other’s energy. Amey sings from behind his drum kit including lead vocal duties on debut album cut Swallowtail. Guitarist and keyboard man Joff Oddie has been there from that start and produces a sound that is distinctively Wolf Alice.
And Ellis exudes a confidence and power seemingly greater than Rowsell’s, speaking with audiences and ending shows bare-chested. All of the boys have microphones at the live shows and add vocals across their catalogue of songs that extend far beyond just the two LPs.
As Rowsell, Oddie, Amey and Ellis bring to a close the Visions Of A Life era of Wolf Alice with the last of three party shows – the first at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse and the second two on home turf at London’s Brixton Academy – the snow confetti raining down across their 5,000-strong loyal fanbase as they close the show with first album single Giant Peach ahead of the band basking in spotlight glory as Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody plays over the PA, we can only smile and look forward to even greater things to come from the group’s third record, that Mercury Prize money presumably being put to use.
Story and photos of Wolf Alice @ Brixton Academy by Kalpesh Patel on 20th December 2018.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate