The inimitable Wild Beasts, one of the most important indie bands this country has produced this century, depart on the most crushingly bittersweet of terms.
22:32 18th February 2018

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There have been many farewells from the more interesting stalwarts of the last decade of the UK indie scene of late, many of whom have played a farewell tour like Wild Beasts’. Take The Maccabees, for example, who ended their run with three consecutive dates at Alexandra Palace. They promised “the best shows of their career”, and perhaps they were, but when it comes to Wild Beasts there’s a reason the clamour feels quite so more heartfelt, and why the outpourings of grief feel so completely genuine.

The Maccabees might have been a bigger band, and so too were dozens of Wild Beasts’ contemporaries, but none tugged at the heartstrings quite like the Kendal foursome. They were always so much cleverer, so much more creative and intelligent. In a more just world their arch examinations of problematic masculine sexuality under the guise of gleefully mazing indie would have garnered enormous mass acclaim, but so too can we be glad that they remained cult enough to remain the touchstone for the too-clever-for-their-own-good, the heartthrob heroes for the bookish and unusual with an arsenal of terrific records to boot. Their last ever show is the final gathering of these people, five-thousand strong of them in fact. It’s a diverse crowd; in the decade since the band’s first record some of the first influx of fans have grown out of awkwardness into full-fledged lads, while others have ventured even further into the artistically obscure. Others have clearly come to the band only recently, with one procession of be-glittered teenage girls leading each other out of the throng halfway through the set in floods of tears, and there’s a fair share of youngsters dragged along by eager hipster-dads keen to wax lyrical on how lucky they are to be there. What’s most important, however, is that whether returning for one last nostalgic treat or for a vigil for the band that’s defined them, rarely do the bonds between fan and fan, and between band and fans, feel this strong at a live show.

Such is the strength of the connection Wild Beasts create between band, fan and fellow fan almost feels too obvious to say, too trite, perhaps, but the sense of loss that surrounds their last ever show is truly overwhelming. Even before they enter the building everyone’s clamouring for the last Instagram shot of Wild Beasts’ name in lights atop the Hammersmith Apollo, and every time the band finish a song – and if there’s one thing this gig points out, they had a lot of incredible songs – the a naturally rapturous roar from the crowd, but one tinged with the feeling that we will never, ever hear them again.

The opening burst of tracks alone are enough to assure why Wild Beasts were such a special band. The simmering and slithering groove of The Fun Powder Plot opens to a tremendous roar from the audience, and launches straight to the luxurious, racing pop of The Devils Crayon and then again to the ornate melancholia of Reach A Bit Further. By the time they reach the glorious synth-pop gem A Simple, Beautiful Truth it’s already become a bit much. They’re firing on all cylinders with glorious power and it’s totally overwhelming; perhaps we’d forgotten just how special this band can be.

That said, while Tom Fleming rises to the emotion with heightened vigour, each of his lines laced with urgency as he moves constantly onstage in search of a channel for his energy, co-frontman Hayden Thorpe is a little subdued while musically sound; it’s as if the gravity of the situation might understandably have got to him. Then, We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues is played, and both Thorpe and the band rocket into a higher gear. What’s remarkable is that even at the very death there’s still room for Wild Beasts to push their music forwards, and the song concludes with a twist, mutating into a blistering rave-up as lights clash chaotically all around.

From thereon out there’s nothing that can impede on the stampeding momentum of this show. Every facet of this brilliant band is on show; the boisterous power of their electro-hybrid later work (Big Cat, Mecca, Ponytail), the gorgeous tenderness of their third record Smother (Loop The Loop, Lion’s Share, Deeper), the naive and wonky bliss of their earliest outings (His Grinning Skull, The Devil’s Crayon), and the perfection that was everything on their 2009 Two Dancers LP (We Still Got This Is Our Lot, Hooting And Howling), and every one of these faces is bolstered by an extra, unknowable power sourced from the intensity of this evening. Aside from a very brief mid-set pause, the band power onwards for over two hours, the bittersweetness intensifying as song after song is consigned to history, until they land on a pulsating performance of Celestial Creatures and depart. The encore is due, somehow, it’s as if we don’t want them to return, begging for a stay of execution, but return they do, careening into the lolloping bassline of Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants. ‘Gusto’ fails to cover just what power they put behind the final outing of the first track that truly set them apart, jumping and screeching with giddy, gleeful abandon before it gallops to a close. Fleming approaches the microphone: “I’m going to say it for the very last time: WATCH ME!”

The band avalanche through what must surely be the finest ever performance of All The Kings Men, revelling in every line with an ecstatic final spend of their powers before Wild Beasts’ last performance of all. Everyone knew it was coming, the track’s name plastered all over the t-shirts at the merch stand: End Come Too Soon. It’s sweeping and beautiful, and the four pause halfway through to hug as one. They depart and return to stage once more for a triumphant reprise as the curtain drops to reveal the Deep Throat Choir, dressed in funerial veils. Thorpe swimming among the crowd while Fleming stands nobly surveying it all. And then, just like that, they leave forever.

But that’s not it for this gig. Wild Beasts end as they have always continued, on their own terms, and hand the stage over to the choir, who play them out with Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye, the final song from their debut album, a beautiful farewell to the now crushingly absent. Cheerio indeed, Wild Beasts, you were something very special indeed.
Words: Patrick Clarke

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Photo: Damon Peirce