In what feels like the blink of an eye, Wild Beasts have gone from mischievous, rambunctious upstarts to one of the most polished and self-assured bands on the circuit.
They’ve released five albums, all to wide acclaim, and it’s been great to hear their sound change gradually and to see their live presence grow. That said, their latest album Boy King certainly represents something of a gear change. It’s a bold, no-holds-barred record, especially when compared to the relative subtleness of 2014’s Present Tense. I caught them at Manchester Academy on Sunday to see if this new cocksure sound had found its way into their live show.
After the beautiful ‘Song for the Siren’ by This Mortal Coil had commanded the waiting crowd’s attention, Wild Beast took to a stage bathed in red light and opened with ‘Big Cat’ from Boy King. There was more urgency to it live than on record, with frontman Hayden Thorpe frantically emoting with one hand and clinging to the mic with the other. Similarly, ‘We Still Got the Taste…’ had a newfound edge. The line “we got gusto, we are headstrong” was entirely accurate.
Thorpe seemed to have developed a new dance move since last time I saw them, which I can only describe as resembling a hare playing basketball! Meanwhile, Tom Fleming, who sang lead on ‘Ponytail’ and ‘2BU’, cut an agitated figure with his manic gesticulating. Their vocals were awesome all night. It seems impossible that Thorpe could sustain his beautiful falsetto for 90 minutes every night, but somehow he does.
The new tracks mixed well with old favourites like ‘Bed of Nails’ and ‘Hooting & Howling’. ‘He the Colossus’ – surely the most epic track they’ve put to tape – fell a bit flat, and almost felt like it needed an extra member. ‘Mecca’ was stunning though, and is already a classic in the Wild Beasts cannon. Of the songs from Boy King, ‘Tough Guy’ impressed the most, it’s dirty guitar lines sending shockwaves through the crowd.
Sadly, my night ended with main set closer ‘Alpha Female’ due to the dire state of public transport in Manchester on a Sunday night. No doubt those still inside were treated to an encore, probably including crowd favourite ‘All the King’s Men’.
I was left in no doubt that Wild Beasts now have swagger – both musically and physically – that would make the Gallagher brothers envious. It was also clear that they are consummate professionals, and it was all incredibly tight and slick. It did feel a little impersonal at times, and you’d probably get the exact same experience at any other gig on the tour. Don’t let that put you off checking them out though. What they might have lacked in warmth was made up for in sheer bravado.