London Palladium, London UK
Sunday 15 November 2009
Playing big, one-off event shows can be a bit of a gamble. The successful ones become significant occasions, talked about in revered tones for years to come, but ignominious ones may become just as famous. In the years since I saw that Patrick Wolf supporting Arcade Fire, he’s matured immensely, both as an artist and a performer. Tonight there’s a feeling that this gig is drawing a line in the sand as a summary of all that he has achieved over these past few years.
Battle was the working title for his last album, and it feels as if there’s an internal conflict between the serious artist and a spoilt prodigy who is want to throw his toys out of the pram. As he stands heroically astride a slowly revolving mirrorball atop a podium, stripped to waist and covered in glitter, a pair of wings attached to his back, it’s hard to avoid using the adjective ‘flamboyant’ which he hates so much. He’s supported by a tight band, and the added strings and voices compliment the usual arrangements and allow songs such as Damaris to acquire a majesty rarely found in pub gigs. Marc Almond may have cancelled his guest appearance due to illness, but his influence and theatricality can be felt strongly throughout. In his place Florence (& The Machine) Welch appears to perform The Bachelor as a duet, while the statuesque figure of Gwendoline Christie provides ‘The Voice Of Reason’. Most impressive is Alec Empire, whose contributions raise the energy, particularly his freewheeling solo improvisation which provides one of the highlights of the evening.
The Bachelor is the centrepiece, as virtually the entire album is played, but the expanded line-up allows songs which are rarely performed to get an airing, as well as highlights and obscurities from his career to date. But a sit down concert such as this exposes any flaws in execution, and restricts the audience from really taking part in the more uptempo numbers. The venue presents other problems. In the cramped confines of the upper circle the sound is disappointing, vocals being lost in the mix for the first section. Such a long show would have benefited from an interval, and removed some of the pauses needed for costume changes. And while there’s no denying that he did put on a spectacle, sometimes this came at the cost of the music (such as when he was so determined to change his jacket before a song ended, he fluffed its ending).
Throughout the evening, there are many moments here to admire. Wolf demonstrates his skills on a variety of instruments, and his talent shines through, taking advantage of a unique opportunity to do things that wouldn’t be possible in a normal gig. And while tonight included an apology for past bad behaviour, it also had a somewhat self-congratulatory edge which left a little bit of a sour taste. But there was also a sense that this was a victory in the battle for the more mature Patrick Wolf to step forward. I’ll be watching.
© James McGalliard 2009
Wind In The Wires
Oblivion (with Gwendoline Christie)
Theseus (with Gwendoline Christie)
The Bachelor (featuring Florence Welch)
Count Of Casualty (featuring Alec Empire)
Battle (featuring Alec Empire)
Hard Times (featuring Alec Empire)
The Sun Is Often Out