Sound Control, Manchester
Wild Beasts’ most recent run of live shows can be considered something of a victory lap for their glorious third album Smother. What this superb evening of music proved was how sincerely deserved a lap this is. Support came from Gwilym Gold, whose minimalist groovy keyboards and In Rainbows era scratchy beats started rather inconspicuously, but gradually grew in to a far more impressive creature. Radiohead parallels aside (think a whole set based around Everything In Its Right Place), Gwilym Gold’s performance was actually reminiscent in some sense of Grizzly Bear’s first LP Horn of Plenty which was essentially a solo lo-fi project from Ed Droste, before he was joined by the full band. In this capacity, it seems very feasible that Gwilym Gold is on the start of a fantastic journey but isn’t yet fully formed. Nevertheless his stylings impressed and at times absolutely soared.
Then to our main attraction, the Beasts from Kendal. It would hardly be constructive to ramble and rave of their unceasing quality as a live band, as we surely all know by now how exceptional they are. Instead lets turn our focus to the particular brainchild we had turned out to celebrate. Smother, released in 2011, was criminally underrated. When I say criminally underrated, I don’t just mean, it didn’t make the top 10 on enough ‘album of the year lists’. I mean that, the cumulative critical reaction to Smother in 2011 was the musical equivalent of being fairly excited for a nice meal in a restaurant - getting the meal - it making you actually cry with it’s sheer quality and heartbreaking depth of flavour - and then not tipping. It was released to mostly 5 star reaction, yet come awards and accolades season, it seemed to be completely ignored. Perhaps I am too emotionally attached to this album, but I can’t help but feel that, not only should it have won the Mercury prize (for which it wasn’t even nominated), but it should have also propelled the band to much greater heights than it did.
Their non stop performance of the album reiterated its quality perfectly. Every song on the album acts as an intricate expression of either lust or loss. Just as you grapple with Hayden Thorpe growling, in full-on Lothario mode during Plaything, you are stunned by Tom Fleming’s wounded sincerity during Invisible. The two leads play off each other so breathtakingly well that at times the performance is opera, their dialogue intriguing and enveloping the entire venue. Album closer End Come Too Soon has to trigger a comment regarding its relevant placing on the track list. It is a superb closer that has never failed to lift an entire room into an emotional maelstrom, before dropping them, lamenting “End come too soon...end come too soon”.
Following Smother, the band return to the stage to enjoy a somehow more lighthearted run through of a few older songs. Devil’s Crayon from Limbo Panto is perhaps one of the few tracks from their debut LP that carries some of the weight of their more recent output, but Two Dancers favourites All the Kings Men and Hooting and Howling still raise the roof.
Coincidentally, before the Manchester gig, the band revealed that they have begun work on their fourth album. Considering they have released three albums since 2008, there is no need to be concerned regarding their retreat into the studio again. We need only take a short break before we are, most likely, once again impressed and bewildered. Yet for now, Smother serves as an excellent, visceral reminder as to why Wild Beasts are arguably the strongest and most emotionally intelligent band Britain has had to offer in years.
Words: Angus Harrison, Manchester, UK