Ellie Rowsell grabbed the microphone and sang in a manner both hypnotic and snarling. With “Smile,” a recent single and the concert opener at Union Stage on Monday, Ellie declares her intent to do things her way, and she doesn’t give a damn if you don’t like it.
To her side, guitarist Theo Ellis wrapped Ellie’s snapping mission statement in wonderfully layered psychedelia, ad Wolf Alice was officially on the prowl for the first of two-sold out shows in DC.
The shoegazing Londoners stalked the audience and kept their attention for 18 unpredictable songs that seemed to zip by in too short a time. The crowd gave big reactions to the familiar tunes from Wolf Alice’s previous records — EP Creature Songs and LPs My Love Is Cool and Visions of a Life — but they also readily and knowingly embraced new songs from 2021’s Blue Weekend (released in June via Dirty Hit), the record that brought Wolf Alice to North America for this thrilling fall tour.
And thrilling it was. The audience reacted immediately to the familiarity of the one-two punch of Visions’ “Beautifully Unconventional” paired with its “Formidable Cool” early in the set. As Wolf Alice progressed through their night, their psychedelia became more pronounced, and I felt a thread that you could trace all the way back to Jefferson Airplane in the quartet’s devil-may-care approach to genre blending.
The 450 concert goers in attendance would have broke out lighters simultaneously to the anti-torch song “Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love),” and all sang along to it as if we wrote it ourselves. It was one of several songs that refused to conform what you might expect from Wolf Alice in addition to a compelling track from the new album.
Watch the official music video for “Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love)” by Wolf Alice on YouTube:
The wonder and wit of the band continued with the earnest “How Can I Make It OK?” — another new number for which Ellie seemed to compel singalongs with a mere thought — and “Play the Greatest Hits” — a frenetic funny slamdance of a song.
An encore of the popular “Don’t Delete the Kisses” ended the night on a quieter note but also illuminated the power of the quartet. Drummer Joel Amey demonstrated an elegance that is an integral part of Wolf Alice’s character, but an equal part is the ferocity with which he bangs through songs like “Play the Greatest Hits.” Bassist Theo Ellis likewise turned up and down the power from savage to tender as the songs demanded.
Indeed, throughout the night, Wolf Alice successfully struck a balance difficult for most live acts — there were enough rapid clippers to grab the attention of pop listeners but also more than enough meat to satiate those who sought meaning and connection to the lyrics. Wolf Alice certainly has bite!
Bluesy trio Bria, newly signed to Sub Pop, opened for Wolf Alice. Here are some photos of Bria performing at Union Stage on Nov. 15, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Jason Nicholson.
And here are some photos of Wolf Alice performing at Union Stage on Nov. 15, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Jason Nicholson.