Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe once compared being the biggest band from Kendal to being like ‘the biggest fish to be caught in a teapot.’ Tonight, they are a gargantuan shark in a polythene bag, grown faster and leaner than anyone could have expected. With a performance of their stunning third record Smother looming that weekend at ATP festival, this intimate date in Manchester is a chance for them to practice in public, and allow their home audience to celebrate their evolution.
Before Manchester Sound Control is pushed to its peak, Gwilym Gold beckons his audience closer, creating an almost biblical atmosphere with his artful pop, performing as delicately as if his piano was balanced on a tripwire. The crowd are attentive, arty sorts, so sedate and polite that security settles in for an easy night, pulling himself up a chair and whipping his iPhone out, presumably to score a quick round of angry birds. Blending audible inspiration of Thom Yorke’s solo material with tinges of Perfume Genius and King Krule, Gwilym makes the best kind of electronic music, soulful and sad, like walking through a deserted city at night. Hidden behind Wild Beasts intricate keyboard setup which is already in place, he appears as a disembodied head, only adding to the eeriness emanating from his deft fingers. He leaves in a timely manner, not outstaying his welcome, but leaving enough of an impression for you to note down his name.
Seeing your favourite album performed live is always going to be something special. It’s even more special when it is a band you’ve seen develop exponentially over the years, their songwriting unfurling and sprawling into mastery. Tonight, Wild Beasts are a band untameable, so in charge of their powers that it is often overwhelming to watch them at work.
Opening with an elegant, note perfect rendition of Lion’s Share, the sense of happy premonition that comes from knowing which song is next in the set fuels the audience’s enthusiasm, who sing the refrain of each track before it even starts with abandon, drawing knowing smiles from co-vocalists Tom Fleming and Hayden Thorpe. They seem more at ease than ever, nearly 18 months into touring this album, but the effort they place in its performance cannot be minimalized – both Thorpe and Fleming keep an eagle-eye on one another and their rhythm section, ensuring that they remain in taught timing. Smother’s rarely outed moments benefit from this attention, Burning’s emotion welling up like unexpected bad news, causing tears of catharsis to spill from the eyes of many. Invisible is simply exquisite, Fleming executing the ‘you have walked through my dreams’ line with such conviction that the audience audibly sigh, marvelling at his timeless vocal. It’s an issue that has been contended time and time again, but this bands absence from the 2011 Mercury Music Prize shortlist seems even more heinous here, with the record laid bare in full resplendence.
Wine supped dry and Smother packed away with closer End Come Too Soon, the party begins. Wild Beasts return to the stage with The Fun Powder Plot and The Devils Crayon, two older tracks that seem oddly upbeat in comparison to what has come in the hour before. With the news that they are back in Leeds recording a new album which they promise will return to a more playful state of mind, the future is bright. They may just be able to get away with a show this size now, but it is surely a matter of time before academies of people hear their roar.