Wild Beasts are kind of a big deal now, and rightly so. They have done the hard graft that any aspiring band has to do if they want to make it in the big time. Starting out in 2002, Wild Beasts announced themselves with the brilliant 2008 debut Limbo, Panto (Domino Records), a startling, irrevocable indie rock that was followed up a year later by the truly sublime Two Dancers, which unfortunately missed out on a Mercury Prize in 2010 (won by The XX’s debut). The exposure, however, did rightly cement them as one of the UK’s leading bands and the albums that followed have all been met with the same anticipation and acclaim as the last.
Having started writing songs in their teenage years, the band have followed the “trends of the time”, moving from their guitar wielding indie rock though to a more alternative electronic pop. Now releasing their fifth studio album as they enter their 30’s, the Boy King has become one of the most eagerly awaited albums of 2016.
I was one of the lucky few some years ago in the beautiful Hanbury Ballroom (now Proud Cabaret Brighton) who got to see a comparatively intimate and extremely special performance by Wild Beasts before they became the musical brute they are now. Performing tracks off their Two Dancers album, which I don’t recall being out at the time, it was an incredible spectacle of melodic guitar mastery and divine vocal harmonies. Not only was the venue spectacular, this was a wondrous performance from a band that were laying their foundations as a strikingly unique and genuinely extraordinary group.
After opening the airless Old Market with the first single from their upcoming album, ‘Get My Bang’, the tone was immediately set to see how far the band had come in their musical career. Impressive onstage lights and a massive face (taken from the Boy King album cover) sat behind the drummer, and opting for expensive in-ear monitors for all the band, they are doing two dates at one of Brighton’s bigger venues – this was an act far away from the “art-band” they initially started out as. These were also the thoughts of the band with lead singer Hayden Thorpe declaring that they would be playing a range of songs, some new as well as some tracks that are so old that they didn’t even recognise themselves.
Playing a set that revolved around 80s electro pop, with a deep kick and a heavy bass, you could be mistaken for thinking the four-piece from Kendal were in fact a completely different band all together when comparing it to their early material. The only thing that stayed true for Wild Beasts is the majestic mix of Hayden’s falsetto vocals and guitarist Tom Fleming’s baritone singing. The new tracks on show were met with elation and dancing, albeit after a little hesitation, but mostly by fist pumps and woo-hoo’s from an audience making this Thursday night feel like a Friday. However, for me it just clarified their position as a “parent pop” band. Throughout the set, the band’s tight rhythms were sounding smooth and sweet, yet each track constantly lacked any verve to make it memorable. Lyrics like, “These are blessed times that we are living in / Down in earth all is forgiven” had me wondering if Coldplay had a writing credit. And when it came to older songs like ‘Hooting & Howling’ and ‘Devil’s Crayon’, the new approach shone a painful light on their simplicity.
This negativity shouldn’t paint this gig as the worst ever, as it wasn’t by far. In fact, I could see it being some people’s best – the musicianship was exquisite and the whole occasion Wild Beasts put on at the theatre matched the band’s stature (and ticket price). I am just a music fan stuck in the past, living off my last memory with the band back in 2009. Yes, bands are supposed to evolve with the times and that is bound to win some fans and sometimes lose others – take Kings Of Leon and the Black Eyed Peas for instance – but it is a given that you will fall on one side or the other and it is not always the easiest thing to swallow. Twin Dancers is easily in my Top 10 albums and it will stay there for a long time yet, but has this experience helped my continuing love for Wild Beasts? I guess disappointment really is the worst.
Read our Spotlight with Wild Beasts here: http://brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/spotlight/1632-wild-beasts
Read our review of the their new album Boy King here: http://brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/12-music/1650-wild-beasts-boy-king