Back in March of 2015, the members of Wolf Alice made their Chicago debut with a buzz-worthy show at Subterranean that foreshadowed the band’s future as the modern torch-carriers of rock and roll. The group has since released three critically acclaimed albums – My Love Is Cool, Visions of a Life, and 2021’s Blue Weekend – all of which have been nominated for the Mercury Prize and earned them legions of fans who adore their complex grunge sound.
On Nov. 8, 2021, now perfectly polished and sophisticated, but still spontaneous and noisy in all the right ways, Wolf Alice returned to the Windy City to treat fans to a thrashing, screeching, sweet setlist during their headlining show at The Vic Theatre. The performance included music from their entire catalog and, throughout the night, fans celebrated each song more enthusiastically than the last.
Deafening cheers erupted as soon as Ellie Rowsell (vocals, guitar), Joff Oddie (guitar), Theo Ellis (bass), Joel Amey (drums) and touring member Ryan Malcolm (keys) took the stage. Their vast range in sound and style was apparent from the opening run of “Smile” – Roswell conjuring some Debbie Harry rap swagger in the verse before pivoting to a siren’s song in the chorus – the vicious, “You’re a Germ,” and the complex, “Beautifully Unconventional.” Whether loud or soft, new or old, fans welcomed every song as if it were their absolute favorite. The audience was so enthusiastic in fact that Ellis declared that their clapping, singing, and cheering during “Bros” created an even better response than that of shows in their home country England.
“That’s what I’m talking about, Chicago,” he said.
The rawest punk moment of the night came compliments of the Blue Weekend wrecking ball, “Play the Greatest Hits.” Starting with feedback and ending with a fan tossing flowers on the stage, the scorcher found Rowsell prowling the edge of the audience as if she were stalking her prey while her echoed howls bounced across the building. Later, “Giant Peach” unfolded into a furious jam with each musician unleashing deadly blows that added up to an impenetrable sonic force.
As impactful as Wolf Alice’s fury can be, their softer side is just as, if not more spectacular. “Lipstick on the Glass” began with the unassuming guitars of Oddie and Rowsell, the latter of whom layered a breathy falsetto that added even more fragility to the silky song. Amey, Ellis, and Malcolm soon joined in transforming the simplistic intro into an atmospheric funnel cloud of sound. Elsewhere, the minimalistic instrumentation of, “Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love),” another Blue Weekend standout, allowed Rowsell’s vocals – stitched with vulnerability – to shine. Amey and Malcolm’s additional harmonies only added to the song’s sweetness.
Near the end of the show, “The Last Man on Earth” felt like a theatrical denouement when in actuality it served as a segue to the night’s apex, a set-closing rendition of the fan favorite “Moaning Lisa Smile.” Since the very beginning there as been a lot to love about Wolf Alice, and, as proven by their latest performance at The Vic, they keep pushing themselves to new heights as songwriters and performers. Fans are eager to embrace each new chapter and it will be exciting to see what they do next.