Wild Beasts - Music Hall of Williamsburg - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Wild Beasts - Music Hall of Williamsburg

by David Bruggink Rating:9 Release Date:2012-07-01

First, a confession to get out of the way: this review might be a little more biased than usual, because by chance, I bumped into Wild Beasts frontman Hayden Thorpe at Ramen Yebisu a few hours before seeing them perform. I discovered that he's a downright friendly guy, and he certainly deserves props for graciously bearing with a tongue-tied and fawning fan such a myself. Suffice to say that my day had already been made complete even before seeing the band take the stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

But my expectations were high. After being intrigued by Two Dancers and then falling in love with Smother, Wild Beasts was one of the few bands I yearned to see perform live. I wondered how their songs, full of thrilling moments as well as delicate ones, would translate outside the studio, particularly the newer material from this year's Present Tense.

Opener The Range (aka James Hinton) proved talented at arranging hip-hop samples, jittery percussion, and ghostly vocal snippets, but after about five minutes, his formula began to lose appeal. While his set was pleasant, his pattern of gradually adding heavier bass and drums to each melody ensured that his songs lacked a sense of wonder or uniqueness. I'm guessing it's never a good sign at a concert in Williamsburg when the artist is getting more into his own music than the crazy guy in pajamas a few rows in front of you who's willing to dance to almost anything, and at various points I noticed that about half the audience was looking at their smartphones.

I know it must be difficult to make loop and sample-based electronica seem genuinely 'performed' in a live setting, but I found myself wanting more than someone pressing the play button and then twiddling various knobs. I also started to wonder whether the knob-twiddling was actually changing anything, or if Hinton was mostly touching the knobs reflexively while lost in his own grooves. However, he's clearly a gifted producer, and one hopes he'll continue to evolve as a songwriter and performer.

The audience was practically salivating by the time the soundcheck concluded and Wild Beasts entered nonchalantly. Beginning with 'Reach a Bit Further,' it quickly became clear that the set would deliver in the ways I had hoped, as they imbued their material, so intimate, moving, and full of vitality on their records, with even more energy, and the audience was offered the unique enjoyment which comes from watching four extremely talented players work together as if able to read each other's thoughts.

The setlist of 16 songs read like a 'best of' compilation - 'Albatross', 'Hooting & Howling', 'This is Our Lot', 'Loop the Loop', and 'Bed of Nails', to name only a few - and featured an excellent mixture of newer songs like 'Mecca,' 'A Simple Beautiful Truth' (already definite crowd-pleasers), and 'Wanderlust' (whose "Don't confuse me..." refrain has attained sing-along status, though it only saw the light of day a few months ago), as well as older ones like 'All the King's Men' and 'The Devil's Crayon,' which really saw the audience come to life.

It was amazing to watch the interplay between musicians, each of whom played at least two instruments at different points during the evening. Hayden Thorpe cut an intriguing figure, somewhere between Antoine Doinel and Ed Stoppard, and I failed to comprehend how he could sing his acrobatic lines while playing complex bass riffs with such apparent ease. Equally adept was guitarist and gruff vocal counterpart Tom Fleming, who was often ready between songs with a wisecrack. Drummer Chris Talbot invariably provided rhythms that managed to be inventive without being flashy, and Ben Little was responsible for many of the evening's most gorgeous guitar-lines, sometimes altering them slightly from his work on the albums.

If I had a criticism of the set, it would be that the mix felt unbalanced at times; occasionally Hayden's vocals might get concealed by a guitar riff, or a digital bassline might overpower the other instruments. As a result, some of the nuance and details of newer tracks, like 'Daughters' or 'A Dog's Life', didn't come through as clearly as they do on the album. However, this was hardly the fault of the band, and I noticed them trying to remedy the situation with the guy behind the mixer several times.

Even so, it didn't stop them from providing an incredibly satisfying set, presenting their best songs in all their glory as well as casting some in a different light. For example, the final song of the evening (and I think we could have gone on listening to them for hours), 'Lion's Share', saw its percussion, quite subtle on the album, being transformed into a club-ready rhythm.

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