I once saw an article in the NME which outlined what it regarded as some “gig essentials”. It was a list of those crucial items that people often forget to grab in the flurry of pre-gig excitement as they rush out of the front door in eager anticipation for the forthcoming show – spare camera batteries, a sharpie for autographs, ear-plugs, cash, that sort of thing.
Yet despite the many years of gig-going expertise, and the renowned indie-wisdom of the New Musical Express, there was a glaring omission from their list – and it wasn’t until I arrived a few minutes early for a Patrick Wolf gig in Southampton that I realised what it was. A good book.
A decent portion of the audience were reading books. They were reading books and drinking red wine. They were reading books and drinking red wine and the sound of pan-pipes was drifting out of the PA. For a moment I was convinced I’d turned up early for a dinner party at Stings house. The audience consisted largely of 50-something Glasto-regulars and 20-something try-hard hipsters – a demographic which is unfortunately the most depressingly boring middle-class one in all of musicdom. And they were reading books.
Wolf’s pre-gig build up was, to be frank, a bit awkward.
This awkwardness was exacerbated by the room – the Turner Sims auditorium is imposing, but it’s bland interior recalls a big, drab inner-city comprehensive school-hall. The stage isn’t raised because it’s designed for jazz and classical music recitals, but this in turn did raise questions of its suitability for accommodating a prancing, extrovert, indie musician.
Thankfully, all this pre-gig apprehension and awkward audience tension was alleviated upon the arrival of Wolf’s support – the Cello-centric singer/songwriter Abi Wade. With only a cello and a cajon to hand, Wade’s sound was an impressively rich combination of deep cello melodies, sparse yet effective percussive beats and Florence-esque vocal lines. The stand-out factor was the percussive sounds she was able to create. The reverb drenched sound of bow on wood and the dull, earthy bass of the foot-pedalled cajon combined to create sparse, emotive beats not dissimilar to the electronic post-dubstep rhythms of artists like Burial and Four-Tet. In fact, when combined with Wade’s Florence-esque vocals, Janie XX’s remix of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ came to mind. Abi Wade is definitely an artist worth tracking down.
As Wade left the stage, the room descended back into an awkward silence. The pan-pipes weren’t even playing and nobody was sure whether they’d be able to finish a whole chapter before Patrick Wolf came on. Eventually, though, he did.
Wolf’s set consisted of a string of acoustic renditions of songs from his back catalogue, recited via an increasingly obscure array of instruments. Wolf played with undeniable virtuoso talent as he flawlessly switched from grand piano to celtic harp and back again, but the only real purpose this diversity of instrumentation served was to distract from the monotony of the compositions being played on them. Wolf’s performance was impressive as a feat of musicianship, but this quickly became grating.
This grating feeling was exacerbated when Wolf initiated an impromptu mid-gig Q&A session in which we discovered a variety of fascinating facts about Patrick – his shirt was made out of a curtain, he has his own tailor, and he had (shock, horror) left all of his make-up at home! Can you believe that!? His make-up was at home!! Disaster!
Now, I’m quite severely short sighted, but even from the back row of the hall I could tell Patrick Wolf was a wanker – and I was delighted that he took the time to confirm this during this irritating gig.
I think I should’ve taken a book.