As one of only two shows that Wild Beasts were playing on a brief US jaunt, it was perhaps not surprising that Thursday’s Troubadour set was sold out long in advance. Even so, this felt something like a sellout plus. By the time we arrived at the venue, there was barely room to move, the bar felt like a rumor, and restroom breaks were completely off limits. On top of that, a very last-minute set time change meant that we missed the band taking to the stage, arriving just as they were playing “Mecca,” the second song in the set.
Those two things combined meant it was not the most auspicious start to a show I’ve ever had, and for the early part of the set, the bass seemed to swamp the rest of the band’s sound far too much. Fortunately, this was fixed pretty early on. I found a place near the bar that allowed me to both breathe and watch the show, and I could begin to enjoy the act of watching one of Britain’s finest bands in action.
I was ambivalent about Wild Beasts until the release of 2011’s Smother. February’s release of the superb Present Tense has only enhanced their reputation as a forward-thinking indie band that has forged a unique sound of its own, and all of the band’s strengths are evident on stage.
One such strength is the subtle creativity and pinpoint accuracy of the rhythm section, one that never draws too much attention but nevertheless gives these songs a restless momentum, or in the case of the brilliant “Wanderlust,” which made an appearance during the encore, an unstoppable energy.
Another is the fact that Wild Beasts is blessed with two fantastic vocalists. Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming are a perfect combination, both contrasting and complementary. Hayden is more comfortable with his gorgeous vibrato in the higher range, while Fleming brings grit and warmth with his style. Whether alternating lead vocals or harmonizing together, theirs is a rare and precious chemistry.
And then there are the songs.
David Fisch commented in his recent album review for Present Tense that the album does not quite flow as beautifully as Smother, but that minor weakness is evidently not an issue with the live show. Older songs such as the rapturously received “All The King’s Men” are a fascinating snapshot of a band that was still growing, and as good as they are, the older tracks only serve to accentuate how much the band has since honed its style to become something truly remarkable. “Albatross” in particular was an early highlight and was certainly a turning point in my own feelings about the band. The song’s melancholy and delicacy was preserved during the performance.
I previously made a comparison to Dirty Projectors in a preview for this show, and oddly it is almost exactly a year since I saw that band play a sold-out show at the very same venue. That comparison holds even truer now. Like the New Yorkers, Wild Beasts is a band that is operating on its own plain, with a sound that is distinctive enough to be beyond imitation but compelling and welcoming enough to delight a sold-out crowd. This is a special band, indeed, and one that is young and hungry enough to have greatness in its future. By the time the crowd spilled out of the venue, I doubted anyone was still complaining about the lack of space.
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