Review: Wolf Alice – Ulster Hall, Belfast
Wolf Alice are one of the fastest-rising indie rock bands in the UK right now and many critics and reviewers describe them as being a significant throwback to the Britrock/Britpop of the 90’s.
They may have only been together in their current incarnation for around two years but they have become staples of the Radio 1 playlist for most of this time. Appearances on Later with Jools Holland have only added to their reputation for great live performances. Their new (and surprisingly only their second album) Visions of a Life was released at the end of September to widespread critical acclaim, garnering 4 and 5 star reviews, with NME describing it as “bold, brave and magnificent.” No second album problems with this band, then.
First up are New York City’s Sunflower Bean, a three-piece that play the type of up-tempo energetic pop that would put you in mind of a collaboration between Blondie and The Jam. This is fast-paced from start to finish and in Julia Cumming on bass and vocals, they have a magnetic and charismatic front person.
Sunflower Bean get a great reception from an eager crowd and by the end of their set, the ground floor of the Ulster Hall is a sea of bobbing heads and waving hands.
When Wolf Alice hit the stage they do just that – they hit it hard, loud and fast. The first three numbers are delivered with a power and break-neck pace that almost knocks the breath out of me. This is all noise and blinding strobes and somewhere in that opening salvo were “Heavenward” and “Yuk Foo” from the current album.
There’s time for some older numbers (older meaning from the first album in 2016) such as “Your Loves Whore”, delivered in an almost reggae style with a big crashing chorus. Four songs in and the crowd are literally jumping – there’s a mini-mosh pit going on in front of the stage and a few of the lads are removing their t-shirts. That’s Belfast for you.
This is without a doubt a fabulous live band and a great performance. The band are fronted by guitarist/singer Ellie Rosewell with Theo Ellis on bass, Joel Amey on drums and Joff Oddie on guitar. Oddie on guitar throws shapes and angles like there’s no tomorrow and actually does throws his guitar at one stage. On one track he uses the guitar like a cross between a lightening rod and a club, banging it on the floor, waving it at the crowd and coaxing mountains of feedback from the speakers behind him.
Theo Ellis is shaven-headed, lean and rangy and he prowls and stalks the stage with the bass, standing on monitors and the drum riser and whipping the audience up whenever he gets the chance. Ellie Rosewell’s voice is a joy to hear live – simultaneously fragile but powerful; growling, howling and screaming one minute then almost angelic and floating the next.
Out of nowhere, the band drop the wonderful europop/synth-style “Don’t Delete the Kisses.” Rosewell delivers this sitting on the front of the stage while the crowd are bathed in points of light bouncing off an enormous disco ball suspended from the ceiling. You have to love the vocals on this track and coming after the onslaught of the show’s opening fifteen minutes, it almost seemed like we were being given a break and a chance to catch our breath.
It’s back to the power pop and raging guitars for songs like “Bros”, “Silk” and “Lisbon.” “Formidable Cool” is full of big sleazy riffs and Roswell delivers rage-fueled lyrics about sex and relationships with real power and passion. On “Planet Hunter”, it’s Rosewell again in the spotlight with her guitar while the band take a back seat on this much more delicate number and the crowd help out on the backing vocals.
The opening chords of “Beautifully Unconventional” is greeted with a roar but for some reason, this sounds somewhat flatter live than I was expecting it to be, given that it is one of the bigger tracks from the new album. “Sadboy” is served up as a restrained 80’s-sounding track, whereas “Space and Time” sounds like the Clash at the top of their punk game in the late 1970’s.
After “Moaning Lisa Smile”, we get the big crashing chords of “Visions of a Life,” the title track from the album. A great song to start winding a set up, it starts moody and dramatic and builds from there, increasing in intensity and volume until it reaches a stage where you’d be fooled into thinking you were listening to a metal band. The band finish with the loud and brash punk tune that is “Fluffy” and leave the stage to roars of applause.
Encores are demanded by an audience that don’t want this to end and the band finish with the hugely popular “Giant Peach,” one of the outstanding tracks from their first album My Love is Cool. I have to say, if Wolf Alice represent where Brit Pop/Rock is currently at, then I can report that it is alive and very much kicking. Kicking hard.
Scroll through our photo gallery by Conor Kerr, below: