El Rey - August 13, 2010
Live Review by Adam McKibbin
When Wild Beasts made their LA debut in February, they were a revelation. Having made a major leap from their debut, Limbo, Panto, to last year’s tremendous Two Dancers, they revealed themselves to be an electrifying live band. Since then, the secret has spread, and now it’s not such a secret anymore at all; rolling back into town, the Mercury Prize nominees upgraded from the Troubadour to the El Rey. Even though they didn’t quite fill up the larger space, the buzz was much louder this time around; there was the swell of bodies toward the front of the stage as soon as the lights went down (following a tranquil, semi-tedious opening set from Portland’s Mimicking Birds), there were shouts of recognition at the first chords of most of the songs, and there were even the cliché assholes in the crowd: drunk guy repeatedly bellowing “YEAHHHH” in a way that made him sound like Chewbacca, the fingers-in-mouth whistler who had a look of smug satisfaction after chasing away a few cute (and now half-deaf) girls in front of him, the drunk punk front and center who spent most of one song flipping off the band, etc. But there was also genuine rapture and euphoria in the crowd – and the whole of this crazy cocktail was not lost on the lads on stage. At one point, singer Hayden Thorpe said that their last LA show had been one of their all-time favorites, and that this evening would be right up there. If that was regular rock-show pandering, the young man is a master of it; their appreciation and enthusiasm never seemed false or forced.
Going into the evening, one worry on my mind was whether they’d be able to convey the same intimacy in a less intimate space. Venue size is presumably part of the reason why I’ve seen a lot of good shows at the El Rey, but can count the number of transcendent shows on one hand; its size is perfect for bands on the rise, bands that have outgrown the smaller clubs that are their comfort zone, but aren’t quite ready for the big-time rooms like the Wiltern – and haven’t quite figured out how to fill the larger spaces with the same impact. Wild Beasts have figured it out. And I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to be watching them figure it out on the Wiltern stage at some point in the near future.
Not since Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg were trading songs on early Shearwater albums have I been so struck by a pair of perfectly paired and contrasting frontmen – but Thorpe and Tom Fleming aren’t just doing some split custody thing, they’re working in tandem. They’re both tremendous vocal talents – Thorpe with his fluttering, dramatic falsetto and Fleming with his grounded but just as arresting tenor. Good singers don’t go far without good songs, though, and Two Dancers is the gift that keeps giving in that regard; “All the King’s Men,” “Fun Powder Plot,” “Hooting & Howling,” and “We Still Got the Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues” are all major crowd pleasers (from the debut, “The Devil’s Crayon” and “Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants” are the clear-cut keepers; “Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye” was missed from the setlist this time around). Guitarist Ben Little played no small part in the leap between Limbo and Two Dancers; as much attention as Fleming and Thorpe demand (and deserve), Little’s guitar parts provide just as much of a stamp on some of the band’s best songs.
By the end of the night, the triumph was so complete that I even felt a kinship with Chewbacca and the whistler. Up next for Wild Beasts: making a third album, accompanied by more anticipation and pressure than they’ve ever had in the past. Based on their track record so far, I’m definitely not betting against them.
Wild Beasts - "All the King's Men"
Wild Beasts - Live - Feb. 10, 2010
Wild Beasts - Live - October 13, 2011
More by this writer:
Vivian Girls / Best Coast - Live - February 6, 2010
Fever Ray - Interview
James Blackshaw - The Glass Bead Game
Leonard Cohen - Live - April 11, 2009