How do you determine what makes a great rock band? Is it having a guitarist who can alternate sprawling solos with delicate tones? Or is a powerful drummer with unrelenting rhythms who provokes rabid responses from the crowd the secret ingredient? Maybe it’s enlisting a bassist who is equal parts hype man and hardcore rhythm virtuoso or a front woman with the power to seduce and destroy while commanding her versatile voice to do three impossible things at once.
Whatever magic concoction combines to make a group great, Wolf Alice is overflowing with it. During a March 30, sold-out show at Chicago’s Metro – the group’s biggest Windy City performance to date (if you don’t count their blistering 2016 Lollapalooza set) – which kicked-off Easter weekend, the London foursome enraptured fans with perfectly raw, gritty and supreme takes on tunes from their debut EP, “Blush,” through their latest release, “Visions of a Life.”
Wolf Alice began the show – which was presented by WKQX – the same way they did their 2017 album, with the dreamy farewell that is “Heavenward” before annihilating eardrums with a ferocious punk-inspired performance of “Yuk Foo.” The gnarly tunes continued with “You’re a Germ,” which unveiled with the careful restraint of a predator stalking its prey until Ellie Rowsell howled triumphantly, “You ain’t going to heaven.” Snarling never sounded so sweet.
Throughout the night, guitarist Joff Oddie unleashed beautifully noisy solos that filled the venue with a menacing soundscape. “Space & Time” was an assault of the senses as Oddie thrashed across the stage creating refreshingly unrecognizable sounds. The track ended with the guitarist kicking his instrument to create unholy strums tailor-made for rock rebellion.
“Turn the lights out for a second,” said bassist Theo Ellis at the start of “Silk,” which the band proceeded to play silhouetted in backlight. In many ways the performance showcased the specialness of Wolf Alice as the four musicians created an atmosphere – at once pretty, powerful, haunting and cool – in which it was difficult to determine how each unique sound was generated under the tapestry of the whole. Later, Drummer Joel Amey brought a tribal quality to “Sadboy,” abstract and percussive at its core.
One of the best moments of the night came when Wolf Alice invited a Chicago fan – whom Rowsell introduced as a “serious shredder” – to perform with them during “Moaning Lisa Smile.” The crowd cheered in support of the stand-in soloist as a guitar-free Rowsell prowled the stage growling the chorus into the faces of fans. “Don’t Delete the Kisses,” “Beautifully Unconventional” and “Bros” – which ended with contagious smiling from the band – also connected with the adoring audience.
Earlier in the night, The Big Pink set the stage for a concert of moody music with a set full of gritty shoegazing songs from “A Brief History of Love and Future This.” The harmonies of Robbie Furze and Nicole Emery hypnotized throughout the performance and fans couldn’t resist singing along during the track that started it all, “Dominos.”
Wolf Alice isn’t necessarily known as a jam band, but as the concert approached its conclusion, they delivered a series of mind-blowing instrumental interludes punctuating the epic opus “Visions of a Life.” Whether they met the devil down at the crossroads or have been anointed by the angels of rock, Wolf Alice has conjured the power to take you to church while dabbling in a dance with the dark side.
After witnessing the rousing effects of live music at its finest – compliments of a band on the brink of super-stardom – Chicago fans had a very Good Friday indeed. Keep up with Wolf Alice’s news, tour dates and releases at www.wolfalice.co.uk.