Echoplex - October 13, 2011
Live Review by Adam McKibbin
It’s been a whirlwind romance, my relationship with Wild Beasts. Just back in February of last year, they were playing their first-ever L.A. show – and it was a case of liking a band going in and loving them going out. Still, they were a relative newcomer to my heart. By the time October 2011 rolled around, they were back for a third L.A. show (the second one was a doozy, too), touring in support of Smother, their third release – and an album that, at this point, is the best of 2011.
Last time around, they booked a little out of their weight class, not quite filling up the El Rey – although they drew a very enthusiastic crowd. The same held true for their show at the Echoplex. On one hand, their ambition is so large and their skill so impeccable that it seems only right that they be playing larger stages (in my first review, I daydreamed about them replacing Muse on the bill at Coachella). On the other, Smother is not the sort of record that a band makes when they are interested in exponentially expanding their fanbase. As co-frontman Hayden Thorpe has said, it’s “more introverted and daring.” That won’t get you on the fast track to the MTV Awards. It won’t, as it turns out, even get you a higher Pitchfork score than your own opener.
That opener was crit-darling EMA, whose Past Life Martyred Saints will presumably be making a lot of year-end lists. Not this one – but it’s an alright album, offering some echoes of grunge heroines like Kim Gordon and PJ Harvey, packed with some dense shoegazey stuff and gloomy lyrics. It doesn’t really cohere into anything compelling on stage – or at least it didn’t on this night.
If the evening’s setlist can be taken as evidence, the Beasts are moving beyond their debut album, Limbo, Panto – which seems likely to have a sort of Pablo Honey-esque destiny. The only song to make the cut was the propulsive “Devil’s Crayon,” a tried-and-true crowd pleaser. For my money, there are a few other worthy candidates for setlist inclusion, but it’s hard to argue about a heavy focus on Smother and Two Dancers.
Hearing Thorpe and Tom Fleming diverge and wrap back around one another remains one of the best things you can be doing with your ears. They’re a formidable vocal duo – a point they quickly reinforced with “Lion’s Share,” the arresting lead track from Smother, one of seven tracks played from the new album. The Secret of the Beast is hardly a simple matter of vocal contrast – the falsetto matched with the baritone – or sheer technical skill of all the players involved (though that never hurts). There’s an emotional depth to their music, and their intensity and complexity translates very well to stage. Wild Beasts continue to show that what too often are thought of as conflicting qualities – cerebral/carnal, artsy/accessible – can in fact coexist.
After keeping the crowd moving with Two Dancers’ “Fun Powder Plot” and “All the King’s Men,” their excellent encore concluded, predictably, with “End Come Too Soon” – a built-in set closer if ever there’s been one. The only suspense was how they would handle the couple-minute dramatic pause in the middle, the patient, ambient build before one of the year’s best climaxes. At first, it seemed like they may omit it altogether, as Thorpe held up his hands in “thank you, good night” form. But instead they delved right into that abyss, stretching it out, the equivalent of a jam (or anti-jam) right in the middle of the last song of an encore. Not your average band. And then the music swells, the piano kicks back in, all four members (five, for this tour) in perfect unison as Thorpe hits his wordless hallelujahs. It’s the transcendent sort of moment – both on record and on stage – that can make your most mundane thought or action feel cinematic. “The end / it comes / … too soon,” Thorpe concludes. That’s not a discovery, but it feels like one tonight. Enjoy it while it lasts. Enjoy what? All of it.
Wild Beasts - Live - August 13, 2010
Wild Beasts - Live - Feb. 10, 2010
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