Some nights are a little harder to get motivated to go out for the music you love. I don’t mean those nights when some seldom seen iconic band hits the likes of The Turf Club in a blizzard. That’s different. It’s Minnesota. Either you go or you don’t. You can be mad or disappointed (or rightly screwed when slid into a ditch). But the hand gets dealt, you play it.
When it’s a week into November and summer keeps creeping back into sunny days, we’ve got options. Like throwing on a heavier flannel and throwing some logs on a bonfire. For me at least, it’s just kind of hard to go inside. No matter how much I love what’s going on. Because we all know, just like they did in Winterfell, that winter is coming. So the band we’re going inside to see better deliver the goods.
Wolf Alice delivered in spades.
I’ve often mused about filling in the gaps. How all of us have gaps in our musical reach. The fact of the matter is that somebody who knows all the bands, doesn’t go very deep in every genre. Somebody who can go for days on a particular scene won’t be aware of all the stuff across the spectrum. There’s just too much stuff and not enough hours in the day. All you can do is keep trying to fill the gaps.
Wolf Alice was a personal gap. And that’s ironic. Because if there’s one altar at which I’ve worshipped for years it’s that slick, professional, powerful, UK post punk, hard rock band. That’s a mouthful but you know who I mean. Running from bands like The Pretenders through Big Country, Texas, Thin Lizzy, The Waterboys, Teenage Fan Club, Cranberries, Primal Scream. Like Del Amitri sang: “Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.” They sure do in that neck of the woods.
I know it’s just a personal opinion but I’ve always believed (careful here!) that UK bands are better live bands. It always seemed that there were many ways to make the climb in the US. Mostly because of radio. Sadly, much of that has now gone away as radio has become media for selling products to particular demographics. But still, there remain a handful of beacons that are still all about the music. I’ll give a high five to The Current around here.
In the UK, forget it. The BBC ruled the airwaves. A band’s chances of landing a song in rotation were next to nil. So if you were going to make it, you schlepped your gear from club to club picking up fans a few at a time. The old fashioned way. You earned it. You want to be a good live band? Play. Our friends across the Atlantic grew up doing just that.
There is always a ton of great rock and roll music coming out of that part of the world. Dare I ask the question: Is the particular mountain top upon which this thrice Mercury Award nominated band currently resides, the highest current peak? We might debate that. But we’d also be safe in resting on the conclusion that it just might be
Which all made it a unique opportunity to catch them in a place like The Fine Line. When it comes to slotting the right bands in the right sized venue, our friends at First Avenue generally do an exceptional job. It’s not an accident that they operate or partner with all the venues they do. Yet, I initially questioned this one. Wolf Alice spent the summer headlining major festivals across Europe. They’re well known over here. What on earth were they doing playing a 600 cap room? Of course, the show quickly sold out. In my mind, that was also one of the best reasons to be willing to head indoors on a last beautiful day.
As the band displayed this dizzying range from guttural punk edges to etherial harmonies bouncing around the room, it all seemed right. It felt like a band that was kind of getting back to its roots. Just doing what they love. There are many ways bands deliver rock and roll. But the best is when we can feel this authentic joy flowing from the stage. You know it when you feel it because it’s that thing that crackles and makes your body move. Makes you feel like a participant rather than an observer.
If I were to speculate, I’d bet Wolf Alice loved all that adoration from those big summer festivals. At the same time, it had to be a lot of pressure and hard work. Fun for sure. But a far cry from the immediate rush of blowing up a mid sized nightclub. I think they were digging it.
Maybe the Fine Line felt like a scene they inhabited back when they were still dreaming that someday everybody would hear them. That they’d hit some big time. That’s got to be a happy time, right? So when a band finally climbs that mountain and gets a chance to just deliver some righteous rock and roll smack into into the smiling faces crowding the stage…I mean, isn’t that about as good as it gets? For the performer? And that dedicated fan standing an arm’s reach away?
If there is any post Covid silver lining in the music industry it is that there’s a renewed energy. Players didn’t get to play. Can you imagine how soul sucking that would be? Serious live music fans had their social existence extinguished. Players and fans are still riding a newness wave and that energy is special. Wolf Alice played like none of them could think of anything better in life than exactly what they were doing on that stage. The audience was there not only to rock with a band they loved. They just loved the simple fact that they were able to come together in person. It makes for a great vibe.
If you are already hip to Wolf Alice, there’s nothing new I can add. If you’re not, you should fill in the gap.
Throughout the night I kept flashing back on a memory of another UK powerhouse nearly 30 years ago. By accident, I ended up at The Big Day in Glasgow; wedged into a throng of 250,000 drunken Scots. Howling back the chorus of Big Country’s anthem In A Big Country. It felt like standing on the precipice of a huge battle. The power was stunning. Shortly thereafter, Stuart Adamson and Company loaded into the Mainroom and pushed the walls back. Kind of like tonight in The Fine Line. Both bands seemed so damn huge in a small space. I was walking down a favored Memory Lane, giggling with glee.
Cheers, Wolf Alice! Hell of an introduction. On behalf of those local fans who have been there from the beginning, thanks for keeping it accessible.