Words by Grace Hood-Edwards
Photography by Shelley Te Haara
“How the fuck is everyone doing on a Sunday night?!” Theo Ellis, bassist for Wolf Alice, cried out at the heaving Powerstation crowd.
Pretty damn good, was the general consensus.
Wolf Alice, a British alt-rock-grunge-pop wonder, returned to Auckland this weekend after their brilliant performance earlier this year at Laneway. On this last stop of their world tour, Wolf Alice was riding high – having won the highly-respected 2018 Mercury Prize just last week for their excellent 2017 album Visions of Life.
Ellis later expressed hope that we were all “well lubricated in the drinks department, on this day – the Lord’s day!” Leading by example, the four members of Wolf Alice entered into wild cheers – drinks held high, toasting the crowd. In the intimate surroundings of Auckland’s Powerstation, the beginning strains of Your Love’s Whore burst out, like sparks from tinder, sending the audience surging forward. Ellis addressed this – a thrumming bass his backdrop – calling out: “Hello Auckland! You’re a rowdy bunch”.
As if the music wasn’t enough, Ellis stirred the audience further – eyes wide and wild– shouting out “Come on!” at the crowd. His half-manic energy was a delight to watch – his asides to the crowd highly entertaining – we even got a thumbs up or two as the night progressed.
A stand-out focus of the evening however, was lead vocalist and guitarist Ellie Rowsell, who literally stood out, spotlighted and wearing white against the canvas of the band’s black attire. Dressed in a white slip and heavy eyeshadow, her platinum blonde hair glowing, Rowsell brings to mind a gothic Tinkerbell. Her voice, at turns, rasps and soars – moving from ethereal to raw from moment to moment, song to song.
The lingering vocals of Your Love’s Whore are quickly switched into near-screams in Yuk Foo, followed by You’re A Germ. We are being treated to authentic rock, with even an epic guitar shred from Joff Oddie in Yuk Foo. Joff Oddie and Joel Amey, on guitar and drums respectively, chime in with Beastie Boys like backing vocals. There is visible glee from the crowd as Rowsell scream-counts the chorus in on You’re A Germ.
Amey, wearing an impressively deep V-neck, on drums was great. His drumming felt classic, and of consistent quality through the show, unfaltering. A fun moment with a roadie sticking his bum out at the audience had Amey breaking into laughter in the middle of his backing vocals – but it just added to the entertainment. Wolf Alice could do no wrong.
Even technical issues with Rowsell’s guitar, which had roadies coming on and off stage, couldn’t phase this band. Without breaking, Rowsell simply set her guitar aside and decided to step out into the crowd and crowd surf. Rowsell singing Visions of a Life literally raised up by a mob of hands and bodies was a moment akin to a Renaissance painting. Utter pros.
A blue lighting change signalled Don’t Delete the Kisses, the band’s first single to break into the UK’s Top 100 Chart. It’s a single that hints at Wolf Alice’s range, and what they’ve evolved into – a band that defies genre – blending poetry, rock, grunge and pop. It was transporting and dreamlike, with powerful high vocals that echoed through the room. Rowsell owned the stage, with a little Bowie moment, languorously twirling the mic cord around her hand as she half-murmured/crooned. The audience all raised their hands for the final few lines.
St Purple and Green followed in a weird and fun track with wailing guitar, decorated with green and pink lights, shadows of tree branches swaying on the back cyclorama. The more stripped-backed, but rather funky Beautifully Unconventional showcased Rowsell’s sirenlike vocals. A single spotlight illuminated Rowsell for Formidable Cool’s opening. The lyric ‘it reverberates right into your bones’ stands out for this track, because the same can be said for Wolf Alice’s music. At one point, Oddie raises his guitar in the air to play, in a very rocker moment.
Oddie was locked into a classic guitar power stance for most of the night (think Jack Black’s coaching in School of Rock). He was quiet – letting his incredible guitar playing speak for him. Rowsell’s loud exclamation in Lisbon triggered an insane guitar and drum solo. When Oddie threw his guitar in the air, jaws dropped and the crowd went crazy. Two guys in front of me took their shirts off. It looked like everyone was head-banging amidst a thrashing crowd.
Ellis let the crowd know that as much as they were thankful to be in front of us, this gig was “a bittersweet affair for all of (them).” They’d been working with a member of their crew, Owen, for the past three years and it turns out he is moving to Auckland – news that was met with cheers from the Kiwi crowd. They dedicated an emotional rendition of the aptly named Bros to him. A small smile appeared on Rowsell’s face as the audience started clapping in time to the music.
Just the drumbeat for Space & Time had the audience jumping. This foot-stomping beat had Ellis’ leg moving a mile a minute. This track was frenetic and wild, Oddie perfectly capturing this feeling with the cavalier manner in which he onehandedly swung his guitar around in large circles onstage.
By the time the lyric ‘out of control’ is sung in Moaning Lisa Smile, that’s what it felt like. Perfectly out of control. Rowsell was stomping around the stage, letting the audience sing into the mic. Ellis’ shirt was off. Amey’s impressive V-neck was completely unbuttoned.
The encore chant went on for several minutes, before the band returned – satisfying with the emotional and beautiful Blush, the assumedly NZ-inspired 90 Mile Beach, and the raucous Giant Peach. The band seemed joyous and wholly comfortable, Ellis even kissing one of Amey’s cymbals before punctuating a beat by striking it with his head.
It was inspirational to see such a brilliant band being led by a musician like Ellie Rowsell, reminiscent of 70’s – 90’s girl-rock groups. Flashes of No Doubt and The Cranberries were brought to mind during Sunday’s performance. In a similar vein, Auckland based opening act Miss June also had a powerful dual-wielding lead vocalist and guitarist in Annabel Liddell. Both women in their powerful punk-pop-rock stylings absolutely rocked the stage. It was awesome to see two true rocker women up there and being appreciated for their consummate nailing of their craft. Comparisons to Joan Jett couldn’t help being drawn by both stars. Miss June are a Kiwi band on the rise, a force to be reckoned with, and will be playing at Laneway 2019.
This gig was special. It felt like we were being treated to an underground British punk gig, all the way down under. Rowsell’s voice alternates between haunting and raging, and is backed up by the wildly energetic and thrumming instrumentals of Ellis, Oddie and Amey. Even when you can barely understand the lyrics –you don’t need to. Wolf Alice’s music gets its teeth into you, pulling you along with it. Wolf Alice’s music feels almost as if we’re taken back to another decade. Out of place, but totally right. I hope they don’t ever stop.
In the perfectly Kiwi words of the guy behind me as we shuffled out:
“That was mean-as, bro.”