When Patrick Wolf’s ‘The Libertine’ was played on BBC 6music in 2005 it was immediately apparent that a new musical force had been unleashed. His skills as a live performer have always been particularly well renowned among his fanbase. However, Wolf’s 2011 incarnation is vastly different from The Bachelor-era Wolf, which was full of anger and depression; Wolf 2011 is back on a major label, doing things his own way and due to marry his boyfriend in the coming months. There is much to celebrate, and his new album Lupercalia will be the upbeat counterpart to The Bachelor’s loneliness and alienation.
One of the reasons Wolf commands such enthusiastic audiences – people screaming with joy on a weeknight in London is surely a rare occurrence – is his ability to connect with them; he has the sort of charisma that superstars develop after years on the stage, and many of his fans will have come through their teenage years with him on their side, singing about the sort of trials and tribulations they themselves would have been experiencing. Many would be surprised to realise that Wolf’s career has been something like a decade in the making. Managing to pack out KOKO months before the release of his fifth album is hardly the big time; frustratingly, he has evaded the mainstream’s interest. Sometimes it has seemed like he chooses to do so, but his move towards more mainstream pop must be a nod to the demographics that will be open to discovering him. Perhaps Wolf is aware that to live the lifestyle he wants, which he once described as a ‘champagne lifestyle on lemonade money’, he’ll need to sell records. It was telling that whenever he played a track from his stunning debut Lycanthropy or a B-side, he’d comment on some of the audience not knowing it. The response to classic B-side ‘Godrevy Point’ was as enthusiastic as any other song in his set, though, so there is hope that the audience have really gone and explored his work.
This show couldn’t have been cheap to stage; his stage setup is as extravagant as Ed Harcourt’s, with an array of performers adding depth and vibrancy to his music. In a way, the old days of Wolf with a few accompaniments like the laptop and the ukulele were the most intimate and engaging. It is a tribute to Wolf’s talents that he shines on stage whether he has just a few helping hands or an army, but the current line-up takes him further away from his piratical, windblown West Country days and further into the pop market.
Tracks from the forthcoming Lupercalia range wildly from genius pop to some of the blandest material he’s ever recorded. ‘Time of my life’, ‘The City’ and ‘Together’ are among the pop tunes likely to surface soon, and they all sounded fantastic live. ‘Bermondsey Street’ was quite pedestrian but ‘The Days’ and ‘Slow Motion’ sounded particularly dull, with ‘Slow Motion’ providing some hideous backing singing that grated enormously. One of the great pleasures of seeing how an artist develops lies in the richness of the back catalogue. At KOKO, Wolf dug deep for some rarer tracks, and one of the standout moments came when lyrics from Lycanthropy‘s ’Demolition’ (‘Since I met you/my basement has started to bleed/The floors are all collapsing/Still I’m begging to be free’) were beautifully mirrored in those of a new track, ‘House’:
‘Oh, I love this house, I love this house
Gives me the greatest peace I’ve ever known’
At KOKO, Wolf’s manic energy was reduced but his showman status was still assured; this was a gig that showcased his enormous talent, even if it fell short of his full abilities.
Find out more about Patrick Wolf’s new album Lupercalia and his tour dates at his website.