Wolf Alice is here to obliterate rock and roll's tired conventions.
The North London quartet don't represent the future sound of rock; they’re the urgent, anguished, frustrated sound of right now. And that’s a far more noble and necessary undertaking.
The group returned to a packed First Avenue on Tuesday night in support of 2017's brilliant Visions of a Life, an unguarded, volatile study of the search for love, meaning, and significance.
Vocalist/guitarist Ellie Rowsell can seamlessly transform her vocals (and lyrics) to suit the screaming intensity of a rock jam or the hushed vulnerability of a love song. And both styles were on full display during Wolf Alice's 80-minute, 19-song set.
The simmering atmospherics of "Heavenward" eased us in to the start of the show, but it was the punk scorcher "Yuk Foo" that officially lit the powder keg. The song's raw vulgarities—"You bore me to death, well deplore me/ I don't give a shit"—serve as the perfect kiss-off to the drab status-quo (or a stale ex-lover), signifying that you're ready to try something new no matter whose feelings you hurt in the process.
The band was clearly road-tested and ready to roll quickly from one jam to the next. For the bracing, dynamic "You're a Germ" and "Your Loves Whore," the quartet locked in on the propulsive grooves of drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis.
A tender rendition of "Don't Delete the Kisses" allowed the crowd a moment to catch our breath, while Rowsell roamed the stage with just a microphone, openly sharing a bit of her heart with us. "It's so great to be back in Minneapolis!” Ellis exclaimed to the packed club. “And there's so many more people here than last time." Wolf Alice played an in-store at Electric Fetus the day before, as well as a live session at the Current before the show, and the band seemed refreshed and totally at ease from the moment they hit the stage.
The quest for happiness is a recurrent theme in Wolf Alice's music, and that source of joy could come from love or music itself, whatever arrives first or hits the hardest. But Rowsell makes it clear that she can see through the polished acts and well-rehearsed posturing of those pretending to have all the answers, and she doesn't have time to waste on them anymore. And, if you aren't careful, she's going to write a song about you and excoriate you in front of the entire world.
The well-paced set didn't have a clunker in it, a testament to the creative strength of Wolf Alice's two full-lengths. "Bros" was epic and inclusive, while "Lisbon" was feisty and laden with distortion. Guitarist Joff Oddie joined Ellis in throwing their instruments high in the air as "Lisbon" drew to a fitful close, adding a spirited visual exclamation to the track (while paying homage to Nirvana's Krist Novoselic in the process).
The set's quieter, more unguarded moments still hit as hard as the massive jams, with stirring, emotional versions of "Silk" and "Blush" both standing as high points of the performance. But Wolf Alice were clearly there to rock, and the second half of the set was a steamroller of roiling, explosive songs—"Sadboy," a sprawling "Visions of a Life," "Moaning Lisa Smile," and "Fluffy" all soared, providing communal release—and relief.
After a truly stunning rendition of "Blush," the band brought the night to a fitting end with a fiery version of "Giant Peach." Rowsell delivered the final verse from atop the railing at the front of the crowd, exhorting us all with her fierce doctrine. If she and her mates represent music's new guard, primed for their chance to take charge, they’ll get no arguments from us. And as Ellis affectionately carried Rowsell off the stage cradled in his arms, it was clear that this moment meant something special to them as well.
You're A Germ
Your Loves Whore
St. Purple & Green
Don't Delete the Kisses
Space & Time
Visions of a Life
Moaning Lisa Smile