Although it has plenty to boast about all year round, the Leeds music scene really comes into it’s own in the summertime. Whether it’s heady evenings at the Leeds Festival, triumphant home returns in Millennium Square or sweaty pre-album warm ups, the gig scene is never stronger than over these months.
Drawing more critical acclaim with every hoot and howl, adopted Yorkshiremen Wild Beasts are certainly a band for the locals to be proud of. Mere days away from releasing their fifth record into the world, this duo of Leeds shows is a test run, our first proper date with “Boy King”. By the end of the evening, there is no mistake; Wild Beasts 5.0 are categorically not a band you’d want to take home to mum and dad.
If 2014’s “Present Tense” was a self-conscious walk home to a lonely bed, then “Boy King” is a blood-stained invitation to a fight club, confrontational and vaguely homoerotic in its unabashed celebration of man. Each of the seven new songs performed tonight at the Brudenell Social Club look you dead in the eye, challenging you to question new experiments with grubby funk (“Get My Bang”), bro-punk (“Big Cat”) or Yeezus-worthy arrogance (“Alpha Female”). Wild Beasts have always been a confident live band, but now there is a certain swagger– if this record were indeed the young royal his name suggests, he’d be a protein-pumped lothario guaranteed a pull by 11pm.
Of the new tracks however, there is a standout. “Ponytail” may be nestled innocuously in the middle of the records 11-song tracklisting, but it’s indisputably their biggest shot at commercial success. PG lyrics ‘I want you to love me/I want you to trust me’ sound oddly menacing over a gyrating Daft-Punk beat, not a million miles away from the sort of sleazy ‘nice guy’ rhetoric you’d expect from the likes of Drake. Well, at least until a buzzsaw guitar solo kicks in, throwing the whole thing into satisfying chaos. But what else would you expect from a record the band have described as ‘Nine Inch Nails meets Justin Timberlake’?
In the live setting, old tracks benefit too from this new heavy-handed approach. “Bed of Nails” was previously soft with longing, but here becomes the stuff of kinky threat, vocalist Hayden Thorpe setting the front row of ladies swooning as he sways in ecstasy. A shout out to the suburbs of their once-hometown raises laughs as Thorpe reminisces over time spent living the areas he believes to be ‘true Leeds; Meanwood, Holbeck, not Chapel Allerton and Headingley shit’. Knowingly dividing the crowd of locals with his display of brute tribalism, it’s a moment that could have only been made more unabashedly masculine by him shouting ‘lads lads lads’ while pinching someone’s arse and swigging from a tinnie.
But alas, the tinnie remains a bottle of near-empty red wine, the football chants stay under wraps and the setlist maintains its streamlined physique, drawing to a close much sooner than anyone would like. For a band whose biggest attribute is the light-and-shade of its dual frontmanship, it would be churlish not to finish a gig without peeling back that bravado, at least for a moment. And so we are treated to “The Devil’s Palace”, an inspired fusion of both ‘Palace’ and ‘The Devil’s Crayon’ that sees Hayden’s fragility and Tom’s defiance meet with magical consequences.
Waving goodbye with a glorious romp through fan-favourite “All The Kings Men”, it’s clear that we are witnessing one of Britain’s finest bands at the peak of their powers. Capable of intellectualizing lad culture AND making it sound much sexier than you local sociology professor, “Boy King” is set to terrorise your neighbourhood. Fantastic beasts? Looks like we’ve found them.