“North London!” yelps Ellie Rowsell, beaming like a homecoming queen, “very happy to be here!” And how. Alexandra Palace was always the mist-shrouded dream castle on the hill for local rock wunderkind Wolf Alice, and they’ve dressed up for their introduction to high alt-rock society. Sweeping onstage in a stately fanfare of noise, bassist Theo Ellis is resplendent in pin-stripes his nan would approve of (“she’s over there somewhere,” he says, waving towards the seating area) and Ellie haunts the stage in an elegant white gown, resembling the ghost of some 1820s Ally Pally debutante, or a grown-up Eleven from Stranger Things being stood up on her wedding day.
The public have decided: Wolf Alice shall go to the ball. They’ve certainly earned their step up to the grandest hallways of rock - their magnificent 2015 debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’ utterly rejuvenated the fine art of sophisticated grunge rock, and their Number Two follow up (and Album Of The Year front-runner in most polls so far) ‘Visions Of A Life’ has expanded their atmospheric vista to merge the opposing forces of punk metal howling and amorphous dream-pop more seamlessly than such staccato legends as Pixies and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s a formula that’s made them the premier UK guitar band of the age - dare we even say, the saviours of alt-rock - so tonight’s big league premiere is met with the sort of celebratory gathering-of-the-tribes euphoria that such a glorious fightback against the dark powers of Bastille and their hordes of faux chart indie deserves.
With guitarist Joff Oddie acting out every scowl and squeal that he wrangles from his instrument, Wolf Alice lay bare their core confliction - the clash of melancholic wistfulness and full-throated punk vengeance best captured in a gargantuan Lisbon - from the off. The mournful scree of ‘Heavenward’ gives way to the foul-mouthed tantrum punk of ‘Yuk Foo’ and the vitriolic power pop of ‘You’re A Germ’, and from there the night just flies. Their own brand of bombastic maelstrom pop dominates, be it via first album favourites like ‘Your Love’s Whore’ or second album stunners such as Ellie’s semi-rap open love letter ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’, complete with laser-blue mirrorball. Beneath the intoxicating sonic wash - part Verve, part Blondie, part, well, 4AD goth in places to be frank - Rowsell whispers and screams of humanity’s fundamental insecurities; the inevitable on-creep of death, the fear of being unlovable, the dark visions of a dislocated life. When Ellie asks “why do I feel so strange?” during her epic seven-minute ‘Visions…’, she could be the desperate voice of a generation.
Yet somehow it’s all highlight. ‘Silk’, used as the climax to Trainspotting 2, is as sumptuous and stirring as music gets; ‘Bros’ as oceanic as a song about dreaming of a wild life on the back seat of the Number 43 to Friern Barnet could be. A dark and intense ‘Formidable Cool’ demolishes some manipulative slimebag as witheringly as Ellie’s vengeful tongue ever has; the funk pop ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ celebrates her close friendships with a dedication to “my tiny friend Hannah”. Throughout the fiery glam of ‘Space & Time’ Joff swings and hacks his guitar around by the neck, wringing and shaking sounds out of it like a snake handler that’s been bitten one time too many.
Most charmingly, Wolf Alice treat Ally Pally like any ordinary filthy grunge hole, as Theo requests someone pass him a pint from the bar at the back and they invite a 15-year-old Twitter follower called Jade from Teddington onstage to play Ellie’s guitar on ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’, who promptly brings the house down with one majestic solo. It all ends with a savage, Muse-sized ‘Giant Peach’, the sound of guitar music biting back. Watch out Mumfords, the Wolf is at the door.
Words: Steven Kline
Photo gallery: Danny Payne