The Bank Holiday Friday vibe in West London is remarkably chilled - the only uptight people seem to be the ticket touts - yet something intensely energetic is about to happen. Tonight is one of those thrilling occasions when a band is about to break through. Wolf Alice have comfortably sold out the not exactly diminutive Shepherds Bush Empire before they’ve even released their debut album My Love Is Cool with a back catalogue of released songs that barely stretch into double figures. But as they prove tonight, their story isn’t a flash in the pan; they’ve astutely taken their time to get here and become this jawdroppingly good.
They enter the stage to a hero’s welcome, and one thing that immediately strikes is their different personalities. Joff Oddie is the studious head down guitar player, Ellie Rowsell an ingénue and rhythm section Theo Ellis and Joel Amey are the showmen. They look like a gang and are dressed very nattily, with the boys in suit jackets and Rowsell wearing what looks like a camisole with a pair of Dr. Marten's boots. Their sense of theatre stretches to what looks like not an inconsiderable about of money spent on the lighting, at times though it’s so pyrotechnical you wish you could see the band more, rather than just their silhouettes.
They hurl into opener “Fluffy” at such a fearsome, breakneck pace I wonder how on earth they can keep this up. The screams from Rowsell are like a caterwaul, matched by the raging rhythm section and Oddie’s guitar squalls. As soon as it ends they fly into “She” without a pause, the middle eighth provides them with their first respite of the evening, but it’s a brief one, as they then career into its relentless Spaghetti Western outro.
Tonight they play four previously unreleased songs, which provide interesting clues for what the album will sound like. “Your Love’s Whore” shows their tranquil side, featuring a solemn bassline that retains a joyous funk but leaves plenty of room for the vocal to soar. “The Wonderwhy” with its wailed vocal is a meld of ethereality and noise, showing there’s nothing straightforward about Wolf Alice, indeed at times during the song Rowsell comes on like a torch song crooner. “You’re A Germ” builds from a propulsive riff and has a beautifully assured swagger, with the chord signature jumping up and down. Things get really interesting with “Soapy Water” where Rowsell ditches her guitar to just sing it and Oddie abandons his to play an Omnichord. It’s fragile, like a lilting nursery rhyme and a tantalising hint of where they’re heading to.
Older songs such as the lugubrious “Blush” and the space rock of “Storms” are delivered so marvellously you wonder why on earth they’re not on the album, but let’s leave that to the album review eh? “Storms” closes with Ellis saying, with touching humility “This is insane for us, it’s actually mind-blowing", and it's clear they know how big a deal tonight is.
Closer “Giant Peach” sees Rowsell and Ellis swaying side by side, perfectly syncopated and there’s screaming and chunky riffs aplenty - if anything, the closest genre for the song is Heavy Metal - and here’s where all that time perfecting what they wanted to do pays off, they sound so ridiculously tight.
They encore with two non-album tracks, the tender “White Leather” has Oddie and Ellis standing huddled in front of the drum kit facing Amey, almost as if they’re having their own private celebration. Finishing with “Moaning Lisa Smile”, Rowsell again abandons her guitar, meaning that the song misses her loopingly brilliant guitar notes, but gives her the opportunity to jump into the audience. A shower of ticker tape is ballooned into the audience and it feels like the whole venue is bathed in golden confetti, it’s the perfect finish to a wonderful, celebratory evening.
Perhaps tonight is the drawing of the line under Wolf Alice part one, to celebrate their achievements so far, be that their brilliantly bonkers videos or the initial clutch of songs, whilst giving a glimpse of what’s to come next, which is surely hugeness. Out of interest, I checked the running order for Reading/Leeds festival and they’re fourth on the bill in the NME stage. On the basis of this evening, the organisers should move them not only up the bill but across it to the main stage, as headliners instead of Metallica. Are Wolf Alice the most exciting band in the country right now? You betcha.