Patrick Wolf – Review

He’s been in the industry more than a decade. Why then isn’t Patrick Wolf a huge star? We went to the Epstein Theatre in search of answers…

We’ve said it before and we’ll no doubt say it again; for the life of us, we can’t work out why Londoner Patrick Wolf isn’t a star with a bigger profile. More than a decade in the industry has seen the folktronica pop-leaning Wolf release five albums, each receiving – and deserving of – critical acclaim.

That said, we’ve never previously seen him perform live; perhaps over the course of the next hour or so in the relatively intimate surrounds of the refurbed Epstein Theatre (formerly the Neptune), some clues may be turned up.

Before though, we take our seats for Wolf’s support, Abi Wade. Describing herself thus: “ – A Musical collaboration between limbs, strings and vocal chords,” Wade is exactly that. Armed with her cello and little else, Wade uses the instrument almost as much for percussion as she does in any ‘usual’ sense.

Lazy comparisons may be drawn to various nu-folk artists, but Wade is quite unlike anything we’ve seen before; in a good way. As with all great musicians, they and their weapon of choice seem at one for our benefit and in this sense, Wade is no different. It’s a short but pleasing set, interrupted by the lights inexplicably going up (and staying up) midway through. Wade takes it in her stride, earning herself warmer applause with each song and many a convert in the process.

As pleasant a starter as Wade proved, there is palpable excitement when the main course arrives on stage, supported by a trio of musicians (very fine ones it turns out) with accordion, violin and oboe (the night would also feature a great cameo from a cappella singers Sense of Sound). So we sat and we waited for a hint at THE REASON. Our best bet – it just sprang to mind – why Wolf hadn’t enjoyed more crossover success was temperament. He must be rude, short-fused and mean, we mused.

“His voice is there whenever and however powerfully he requires it”

Scratch that one off the list of possibilities – he was charming, humble and, at times, a little bashful. Could it be his voice is weaker than it sounds on record? He has songs that rely a great deal on it after all. Strike two. His voice, like an extra instrument on stage, is there whenever and however powerfully he requires it. So we give up wondering (it must be just as puzzling and more frustrating for him after all) as song after song – from what is quite the formidable back catalogue – hit, by turn like gentle waves and towering tsunamis.

A mixture of material from last year’s Sundark and Riverlight, as well as a whistle stop tour through older, rarer and underplayed stuff; Wolf it’s safe to say, had the audience (ourselves included) rapt. The combination of singalong pop, meaningful ballad, easy charm and stage presence will do that we suppose.

He punctuates the set with well-timed anecdotes and asides, one of which – used by way of introduction to London (at once a lament and celebration of his home town) – proved so emotionally charged, so candidly delivered, that we had shivers running up our spine. About his yearning to never return home “even though I’d never left,” and how one of his friends escaped the great city only through taking his own life, it’s a tough listen as we write this up.

It was a real moment in an evening full of them, but for out and out fun, you still can’t beat Wolf’s standout and perhaps best known single, The Magic Position. Forming a medley of sorts with, and bleeding into Bermondsey Street (an ode to equality of sexuality), it is a fittingly rousing end – ahead of a single encore – to a very fine showing from a virtuoso performer of the highest standing.

It really shouldn’t take another decade for him to come to the attention of mass audiences in greater frequency. Be careful what you wish for though, were that to happen, perhaps there’d be less nights like this one.

Image courtesy Andrew Abrahamson c/o Everisland 

Posted on 18/02/2013 by thedoublenegative