Wednesday, February 16, 2005

It's Valentine's Day, and I'm Catatonic

Patrick Wolf – The Borderline, 14/02/05

In search of something productive to do to avoid the tedium of Valentine’s day, I picked up a last minute ticket for this launch gig for Patrick Wolf’s ‘Wind in the Wires’ album at London’s charming Borderline venue – an intimate bar/log cabin which Mr. Wolf appeared to have sold out comfortably, albeit with rumours of an unusually substantial guest list. It seems that everybody I know (including myself, vaguely) has some kind of connection with Patrick – he once (already precocious at the age of just 15) played gigs at the Friday Dynamite club, where my first serious band (Hyperfuzz) also gigged regularly, he DJd at the Kashpoint club with Brendan from Unit, and Jeremy Warmsley apparently attended the same school for a while (yep, the one Patrick was supposedly bullied out of). I remember being completely baffled by his apparently random pluckings of a viola back in the Friday Dynamite days – but then I was in an energetic, if fairly unoriginal punk-pop band – perhaps it was just that he was already forging a more distinctive path.

If my earlier review of ‘Wind In The Wires’ seemed a little agnostic, then perhaps it just needed a few more listens. With this performance at least, the songs suddenly seemed to click for me. Playing with only rudimentary drums for accompaniment, Patrick still manages to create a remarkable sound on stage, and his voice is impressively expressive. He also sounds more powerful and less mannered live, which allows his songs a little more room to breathe. Dressed in a bizarre all-black costume, unfathomably tall, and with a peculiar floppy hairstyle, he cuts an imposing, handsome presence on stage – yet remains somehow unassuming and free from ego. He is as comfortable explaining the origins of his evocative narratives as he is with the performance.

The songs actually sound more unusual when played entirely on acoustic instruments. Free from the occasionally cluttered baggage of the programmed beats Patrick liberally employs on both his albums so far, these songs sound like a radical refashioning of folk music, with a bewildering array of neo-classical and contemporary influences thrown into the mix, from Bjork, Diamanda Galas and Kate Bush, to Stockhausen and Steve Reich. The tone and feel of the performance is kept varied by the constant switching of instruments – Patrick plays two different ukeleles, a viola and some wonderfully brooding heavy piano.

He gets through pretty much all of ‘Wind In The Wires’, and his tales of escape to the wilderness all have a strong sense of geography and place. He is as much aware of environment as he is of feeling and mood, and these may be the best songs about the West Country ever written. Particular highlights for me were the carefully constructed drama of ‘This Weather’, the quietly moving ballad ‘Teignmouth’ and the appropriately folky ‘Gypsy Song’.

Mercifully, he doesn’t attempt to play the entire album in order, and finds some room for other material as well, including ‘London’ and ‘Paris’, two of the highlights from his debut. He also performs ‘Souvenirs’, a song that didn’t quite make the cut for ‘Wind In The Wires’, and ‘Penzance’, one of the B-sides of ‘The Libertine’ single that surely should have been included. The latter sounds particularly inspired.
For the obligatory encore, he is joined by string group The Mulettes, who play frantic, endearingly under-rehearsed versions of ‘The Libertine’ and ‘Wolf Song’ to round off proceedings. ‘The Libertine’, with its dismissal of false idols who speak ‘with cliché and addiction’ sounds as if it might be aimed at one specific piece of current tabloid fodder, but whether it is or not, it certainly seems like a bold and original statement of intent – a refusal to tow the line that indicates just how far removed Patrick is from his contemporaries. This is all much more interesting than the over-rated likes of Devendra Banhart, and this could well be an exciting year for this exceptional musician.

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