Wild Beasts, continuing to defy pigeonholers’ attempts to label them artrock, tonight descended on Sheffield’s City Hall Ballroom for the grand finale of their current tour to promote their third album Smother. The Ballroom is a fitting venue for the Beasts, its ornately decorated airy ceiling complementing their erudite Faustianness, while the flashing squares of the 70s dancefloor are a nod to the indulgent decadence more than subtly running through their lyrics. A venue like this is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears, and it’s credit to the Drowned in Sound events team who have brought tonight’s lineup – the opening bands are twee indie pop duo Summer Camp, and delicate balladeers Perfume Genius – together in City Hall for the closing night party.
Summer Camp add their bit to the atmospherics, playing their set to a backdrop of retro 80s family photos. They are a band I want to like, but Elizabeth Sankey’s awkward stage school gestures as she prowls back and forth detracts from her beautiful summer daydream voice. They have a bedroom-recording sound which could be helped with a live band, but maybe it’s the naiveté of their teenagerishness that’s their appeal. In contrast, Perfume Genius, playing live as a duo, are more technically adept, their delicately brooding piano duets tinkling in and around the crowd, subtly, thoughtfully – perhaps a little too quietly for such a noisy hall on occasion – but definitely notching up the sophistication points.
The grandeur of the venue is not lost on Wild Beasts, who last played Sheffield two years ago in the considerably smaller and dingier, although no less loveable Harley – and it turns out the subject of some onstage banter between singer Hayden Thorpe and the Beasts’ guest keyboarder of the evening, Sky Larkin’s Katie Harkin, who joins the band on and off throughout the set lending subtle nuances to their already elaborate delivery. Tracks from Smother contrast with the bouncing rhythms of earlier work We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues and The Devil’s Crayon. New album track Deeper is sultry and haunting, Lion’s Share is understatedly vibrant yet irresponsibly laissez-faire, while Bed of Nails takes the pace up again (fear not, fans of the Beasts’ whirling hypnotism!). But it’s the Beasts’ previous singles Hooting and Howling and All The Kings Men where it suddenly becomes obvious just how perfect the City Hall Ballroom is for the Wild Beasts as the glitter ball over the stage transforms the Hall into a twilight stellar fantasy, furnishing the event with a feeling of such sumptuousness it’s not just a bit of fun, it’s a glorious synaesthetic experience, and perfect for the decadent indulgence of the Wild Beasts’ unique storytelling style.