Wolf Alice at the Olympia Theatre Dublin, 28 November 2017
The term ‘genre’ has become something of a straitjacket over recent years. At times it feels as though we have entered an era of post-genre. Why? Because there is now so much mutation occurring that any kind of categorisation is not only difficult, but it can actually be very reductive. While bands like Wolf Alice can certainly trace their lineage back to the grunge tradition, to pigeonhole them like this is to misunderstand them. The striking diversity to be found within only two albums of material, and their delivery in the Olympia tonight precludes any futile attempt at categorisation.
The starkest example of this comes in the opening few minutes when they open the show with the first tracks off their latest album, ‘Visions of a Life’. As a smoky, white glow permeates the stage the band take their positions for Heavenward. At the moment that this ascent into dream-pop territory peaks, the lights begin to flicker and the energy alters dramatically when the band switch gears for a vicious rendition of Yuk Foo. It’s a bewildering two minutes of sensory overload. At one point the strobe lighting is so intense that you cannot even see the band. All you can feel is the floor move beneath you.
Ellie Rowsell, who up until now maintains a disciplined focus, briefly breaks character to greet the crowd after You’re A Germ with a big smile. Throughout the show she usually appears more grounded, but carries an enormous internal intensity in the subtleties of her expressions and the look in her eyes. While band mates Theo and Joff usually work the stage with a lot of physicality, Ellie achieves more by actually doing less.
Your Love’s Whore is the first moment of the show quiet enough to hear that the audience know all of the words. While there is a representative variety in the crowd, the voices are largely represented by younger women for whom Ellie is likely a strong role model. In a further break from her stage persona, Ellie discards her guitar and playfully skips back on stage for Don’t Delete The Kisses, a synth-pop anthem for the angst-ridden teen. A disco ball is used to blanket the audience in stars as they sing along with Ellie (no easy feat given the spoken-word style of the song).
After the trio of Bros, Silk and Lisbon from ‘My Love is Cool’, you begin to realize that all their songs are hits, or at least the crowd feels this way. Considering that the set is drawn almost entirely from only two albums, it is remarkable that Wolf Alice kept the audience engaged throughout with no lulls. Even a more complex song like Visions of a Life, which certainly deserves to be heard live, is received by a fully attentive audience.
Mosh pits begins to form for the menacing Formidable Cool where Ellie leaves the crowd reeling after howling the line “To heal the wounds you have and not to open any more/ But that’s all he fucking did when he fucked you on the floor”. It’s one of many feral moments that capture the bands raw power. Moaning Lisa Smile sees the bands bathed in red light as they deliver perhaps the highlight of the night.
Something amazing happens in the encore just when this writer had genuinely started to believe that he would never witness something like it again. For Blush, a tender song with a very quiet intro, a 21st century crowd actually became silent. A beautiful stillness fell upon the theatre. If more bands could command this level of control in a live setting, gig experiences would certainly be enhanced. Giant Peach offers up one more moment of primal expression before the end when Ellie sets aside her guitar, stands upright in front of the crowd and starts yelling “Our dark and pretty town/ My dark and pretty town” before just letting out an almighty howl.
With nearly two full albums played in their entirety, Wolf Alice put the pedal to the metal for 80 minutes with no sign of filler. It’s a diverse setlist that fully demonstrates the band’s versatility and offers a further disincentive to those who would fruitlessly attempt to label them.