Wild Beasts treat Brixton Academy and Buster Stonham to a special performance to showcase their new album Present Tense.
The last time I saw Wild Beasts was in the beautiful yet sweltering Californian desert at Coachella 2012. Relegated to the fourth stage and given an unglamorous mid-afternoon slot, the British band performed a wonderful feel-good set in front of a measly crowd made up of a few excited Brits amongst many more bemused Americans.
The four-piece from the small town of Kendal in Cumbria have always been outsiders in the indie music scene. Their falsetto voices, delicate melodies and esoteric lyrics are what make the Wild Beasts uniquely brilliant, but also mean they can be something of an acquired taste. Judging by tonight’s performance, though, the band are completely happy with who they are, and so is their ever growing legion of fans.
Tonight’s setting couldn’t be more different from Coachella. The only similarity between California and the increasingly tired looking and funny smelling Brixton Academy is the heat. But tonight it comes from an entirely different source, specifically the enormous crowd jam-packed into the standing area of the venue, with every inch of space occupied by sweaty, excited fans. The size of the crowd shows just how far Wild Beasts have come in the past couple of years, and with the release of their widely praised fourth album Present Tense they appear to have found the popularity they have long deserved yet maintained their talent for writing beautiful songs.
Material from Present Tense makes up the majority of tonight’s set. The majestically flowing opener ‘Mecca’ gets the crowd swaying almost instantly and is followed by current single ‘Sweet Spot’ which shows off the band’s increased use of electronic synths as well as Hayden Thorpe’s majestic falsetto voice. In all, nine tracks from Present Tense get an outing. Particular highlights include ‘Daughters’ whose pulsating instrumental breakdown is accompanied by a spectacular laser display projected above the heads of the crowd, and ‘Palace’ which sees the three frontmen, Thorpe, Ben Little and Tom Fleming exchanging melodies on their keyboards.
The new material is punctuated by fan favourites from the band’s back catalogue, including ‘The Devil’s Crayon’, ‘The Fun Powder Plot’ and ‘Bed of Nails.’ There is a noticeable difference between these older songs and their new material, which is far more brooding and synths heavy, reflecting stripped down electronic approach of Present Tense. It creates a wonderful contrast which gives the set the feeling of a slowly evolving journey.
The reaction of the crowd is nothing short of astonishing, it’s rare that you see this sort of love between band and audience. The end of every song is met with rapturous applause and cheering, resulting in self-conscious smiles and self-deprecating ‘thank yous’ from Thorpe and Fleming. It’s easy to see how much this reaction means to the band, which visibly grows in confidence as the gig progresses, feeding off the positive energy from the audience.
THIS was quite something last night. Thanks to everyone, you’ve brought a weird little Northern band a long way. pic.twitter.com/Z4tiu2KotK
— Wild Beasts (@WildBeasts) April 2, 2014
The band’s incredible musicianship subsequently shines through, with the front three members switching effortlessly between guitar, bass and keys, sometimes mid-song. Holding it all together is Chris Talbort’s distinctive drumming, with his innovative use of bongos and toms creating a truly innovative and impressive sound. The only minor disappointment is the slight muffling of the vocals in the Academy’s sound system, which limits Wild Beasts’ normally soaring harmonies.
After the main set finishes all too quickly the band quickly returns to the stage for a triumphant encore of crowd-pleasing tunes, kicked off by Present Tense opening track ‘Wanderlust’. But the track of the night is undoubtedly ‘All The Kings Men’ which sees every member of the crowd screaming “Watch me! Watch me!” at a ball-clenching-ly high pitch along with singer Tom Fleming, who is visibly elated at the sustained cheers, which are honestly the loudest I’ve ever heard at a gig. The closing track is the appropriately named ‘End Comes Too Soon’, which descends into a trance-like jam before the end does indeed finally arrive.
Gigs like this don’t come around too often, proving just how special this band is. Making such delicate and intricate songs as these work in a live setting is a difficult task, but the band managed it tonight, and then some.