“You were there when Jimi played the flaming guitar?” … “You saw MJ at Motown 25?”… “You saw Patrick Wolf and Florence at the Palladium?”. The last one may not yet warrant inclusion in the upper echelons of music history, but Patrick Wolf will eventually be remembered as one of our generation’s true talents.
Friday night’s homecoming concert at the London Palladium was simply outstanding. Wolf’s talent has always been prodigious, but the auditorium had an unmistakable air of “happening” — it was pitched as an unmissable, one-off performance, and lived up to expectations. Patrick Wolf finally had a backing worthy of his talent, expanding his touring band to include a four piece choir, full string section, and electronics setup. Oh, and collaborations beyond our wildest dreams.
Support Micachu & The Shapes were left with a difficult task. Their music relies on samples, drum machines, and a familiar audience, but they simply lacked the musicality to make an impression in the huge classical venue. As their set wore on, the reception became colder and colder until you could hear audible groans as songs like “Debris” started up. It’s a shame as in a smaller venue they may have had shared some of the spotlight, but people were there for one reason only.
That reason didn’t keep us waiting. This was a professional operation, calling into question an extremely complex stage setup, orchestral, and electric instruments, multiple performers, a magnetic front man and an unpredictable crowd. Everything ran to plan; the support left the stage, equipment was quickly re-arranged, the safety curtain came down and the wait began. As people took their seats, an intro speech from Wolf, “Divine Intervention”, was broadcast to the audience.
The curtain lifted up as he stepped forth, dressed in black, opening with “Overture”, the traditional opener that has long been crying out for orchestral treatment. It was the first in a long list of tracks that finally found their home on stage, and it was breathtaking to see the songs “as they were meant to be performed.”
The setlist was essentially an expanded version of his current tour version; the majority of The Bachelor was included, barring “Kriespiel”, “Blackdown”, and “The Messenger”, but he added in some live rarities at the expensive of a few fan favourites (“Bloodbeat”, “Teignmouth”, and “Augustine” were all sadly missed). And yet, with a set that lasted over two hours, this is as definitive as it gets.
As is usual, the show jumped between styles. Whilst the opening tracks saw Wolf playing ukulele, he flitted between piano, violin, and a variety of other instruments throughout the show, ever the dynamic frontman. There were moments of unkempt rage, the singer screaming down the microphone and stumbling around stage, only to be followed by silence and reflection. As the ominous “Oblivion” kicked off, the Voice of Hope (actress Gwendoline Christie) stepped on stage in full get-up: “This is the Voice of Hope.” “Hello,” she uttered, in her sexiest voice. “Thickets” was realized in all its glory, the string section going to work on the impressive arrangement.
There were many magical moments, but one stood out. As Florence Welch (of Florence & The Machine) stepped on stage to join Wolf for “The Bachelor”, the crowd erupted in cheers. Their moving performance of the ragtime duet was worthy of such a reception, Welch the perfect vocal foil. Standing with each other, the striking similarities between the two suddenly come into focus, sharing the pale skin, striking hair, and incredible talent.
As Florence left the stage, the gig took another creative direction, with Alec Empire’s setup was wheeled out on stage. One of the founding members of Atari Teenage Riot, Empire has now gone solo and produced a variety of hardcore techno backing for Wolf’s heavier tracks.
Spinning around the stage during “Count Of Casualty”, there was a real sense of joy hidden beneath the crashing beats. Wolf was close to tears at one point, sharing his huge thanks for this opportunity, and explaining that this was a “dream come true.” The cheers broke out again, and the show went on. “Hard Times” was a real turning point, as he commanded us to show a little gusto. The crowd promptly responded, with girls flying out of their seats to dance in the aisles, on their chairs, anywhere they could find space. I have never seen a classical venue so promptly ignored. It might as well have been a mosh pit.
“Damaris” saw the video recreated on stage, with Christie pulling the singer close for a clinch. The next few songs retreated further into his past, before a triumphant rendition of “The Magic Position” brought the main set to a close. The band stayed firmly in position, whilst Patrick left the stage. A partition sheet dropped down, and Patrick’s vocals struck up again, this time singing the introduction to “The Sun Is Often Out”. His voice has the ability to move, most pertinent on this, an ode to two friends — Richard and Stephen — who took their own lives.
The show closed with “Vulture”, Empire once again providing the staccato drum line. It’s an edgy song, speaking of Wolf’s seven day journey into Satanic sex acts whilst in California, but the lyrics ceased to mean anything as the singer emerged. Rotating around on a silver podium, Wolf pulled poses, danced, and ultimately gave an incredible encore performance.
This was, however, a team effort. He made sure each member had their moment in the spotlight before the curtain fell. Once again, Patrick Wolf proved himself to be a consummate performer. At home under the lights, he delivered one of the best shows I have ever witnessed. I feel blessed to be a part of something so momentous.
Patrick Wolf Setlist
Wind In The Wires
Oblivion (ft. Gwendoline Christie)
Theseus (ft. Gwendoline Christie)
The Bachelor (featuring Florence Welch)
Count Of Casualty (featuring Alec Empire)
Battle (featuring Alec Empire)
Hard Times (featuring Alec Empire)
The Sun Is Often Out