Wild Beasts at The Union (21/11/11)

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It’s not often that a Mercury-nominated band play at The Union, less than ten minutes walk from my house. So the night started with the least stressful journey to a gig ever, and my expectations were high for Wild Beasts’s performance. The band released their third album Smother this year, following the success of their critically acclaimed second album Two Dancers. Cumbrian Wild Beasts are usually placed in the indie rock category, but there is more to them than that: the operatic vocals of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming, their art rock/synthpop influence of Talk Talk, and literary references in their lyrics are just a few aspects of the band that stand them apart.

Montreal’s Braids were an able and well-received support act, showcasing their impressive sound. With female vocals cutting through guitar- and keyboard-driven backing and catchy songs, they held the interest of the crowd; an enjoyable warm-up for the main act.

Wild Beasts began their set at 21:30, with a poised and self-assured performance of ‘Bed of Nails’ followed by ‘We Still Got the Taste Dancin’ on Our Tongues’. Both songs were a strong demonstration of the band’s skill and togetherness; you could tell that they’ve been touring this material for a long time. The band’s recent single ‘Albatross’ was one of the highlights of the set — dreamy, layered, and with one of the more memorable tunes. From Smother, the track is probably my favourite. The balance between the vocals, electronic haze, keyboard, guitar and drums is spot on, and the repeated line “I blame you, I blame you” is instantly familiar; it’s the perfect track to recommend to anyone who hasn’t heard any Wild Beasts before.

The set features mainly tracks from the last two albums, including the gentler-paced ‘The Fun Powder Plot’, crowd-pleasing ‘Hooting and Howling’ and ‘Two Dancers (i)’ and ‘(ii)’ from Two Dancers; and ‘Loop the Loop’, ‘Reach a Bit Further’ and ‘Deeper’ from Smother. There are plenty of Wild Beasts tracks they could’ve chosen that I dislike, but luckily the night’s setlist was strong, though could’ve done with a change of pace or two more.

Both vocalists gave brilliant performances. Thorpe’s falsetto blends well with Fleming’s rich lower register, but in my opinion Fleming outshines Thorpe with his energetic and fully engaged performance of the earthy ‘All the King’s Men’, the song he introduces succinctly as “this is a song about fucking”. It was the second song of the encore, and Fleming seemed completely caught up in the music as he screeched “watch me, watch me” and delivered the song with as much appeal as any frontman. The first song of the encore was the quivery ‘Lion’s Share’, and the last song of the night was the seven-minute long ‘End Come Too Soon’, with a long, very electronic, hypnotic middle section.

Numerous times throughout the set the bass was loud enough to literally shake the floor which, combined with the sweaty heat, made for a heady atmosphere. The enthusiastic crowd were appreciative of the band’s talent and effort, and Thorpe and Fleming had a good rapport with their audience. Wild Beasts are a band that, though their recordings are great, somehow make more sense when you see them live — their presence combines with the music to make it all click into place. A top quality performance.

Rating: 8/10

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