I always get antsy before a concert. Always. I have lined up for hours at the end of November to get a good spot at Julian Casablancas. I have waited outside a venue for an entire day even though I had assigned seating. I have attended concerts just for the opening act, sitting through a headliner that I don’t necessarily love just because my favourite band was playing the previous slot. No situation ever makes it easier, and I am always overflowing with excitement by the time I get into a venue. The reality of finally being in the same space as an act, of them walking on stage after an excruciating wait, is something special. It shifts the whole world for an hour or so, twisting the truth so that all that exists is you and the act in front of you. The importance of the event and the days leading up to it and the anticipation that bubbles over while you wait all adds up to a very specific kind of suspense, and I simultaneously love and loathe the feeling.
Counting down the days until you get to see a band live is one of my favourite rituals, and as the date gets closer, things usually get easier. Wolf Alice, somehow, was the opposite. I spent the week before their Danforth Music Hall show listening to My Love Is Cool and Visions of a Life obsessively. I read all the lyrics and watched all the interviews and had an awful lot of one-woman bedroom dance parties. The day of the show went by painfully slowly and mostly involved lying on my bed watching their tour documentary and mulling over whether or not it was idiotic to wear a slip dress on the first of December just because Ellie always wears them. I made copious amounts of tea and sang at the top of my lungs as the caffeine raced through me. I sat in Pizza Pizza and jiggled my leg while I watched Charlotte eat. And then finally, finally, we walked into the venue and my heart knew it could slow its beating, and I returned to my brand of normal. The opening act walked on stage and it all kicked off and I found some sense of calm, until Wolf Alice graced us all with their presence and my universe was turned upside down once again.
Wolf Alice is the kind of band that you don’t really grow tired of. I listened to their debut album, My Love is Cool, on repeat the fall I started university, and it will always remind me of that time of transition, dipping my toes into strange waters and seeing what could come of it. Their second effort, Visions of a Life, hit me slowly, but once I understood the magic of it I could barely pry myself away. They’re a group that makes sense to my heart – their untethered glory, their poignant way of expressing the entire spectrum of human emotion. I often feel like I run parallel to them, or maybe their past stories are my present ones, and it’s something special to be able to relate to a band in such a way.
The first thing I need to mention is that they stepped on stage while Patti Smith was blaring over the venue’s speakers. When I saw Patti in New York City in September, Wolf Alice was the last band we listened to before parking the car and making our way through the metropolis, and this was nearly the reverse of that. It seemed kismet, and from that very moment I knew how special the following hours would be.
They began with ‘Heavenward,’ a song that is heartbreaking in its lyrics and yet somehow hopeful in the melody. It was the perfect start, and looking around me to see the entire venue mouthing along to the bridge in a shallow chant of I see you dancing on, you dancing on, was a powerful first moment. The second track, ‘Yuk Foo,’ stood in harsh juxtaposition to the opener, but the transition from a glowing ballad to an all-out, anger-filled punk song seemed to sum up the feelings of the band – and of the audience – in under ten minutes.
The four of them mixed tracks from their first and second releases, fitting them together in a puzzle that felt like one of the best setlists I’ve ever experienced. Nearly a third of the way into the set, they played ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ and ‘Bros’ back to back, and I felt my heart drop to my feet in an instant. The former is perhaps my favourite track of the year, and hearing it live and attempting to keep up with Ellie’s effortless muttering of the lyrics is a moment I’ve made every effort to burn into the skin on the back of my eyelids. I often spend concerts picking out the minutes or seconds that feel like they’re only for me, and that song is what did it this time.
They went on to play ‘Silk’ and ‘Lisbon,’ their movements practiced and nearly second nature. A few songs later they barrelled into ‘Beautifully Unconventional,’ a song with a chorus that holds my name and yet another moment that allowed me to block out the rest of the world and hold space for myself. My mouth opened against the lyrics (Hannah! She lives! She breathes! She’s beautifully unconventional!) and a smile came out with the words and my heart swelled to ten times its usual size. Sometimes I forget that music makes my heart stop and start, and this felt like both.
Afterward they went into ‘Sadboy,’ an honest, lilting track and one of my favourites from the second record. The first few verses make you want to rock your hips back and forth in a steady rhythm, and the bridge comes in like a call to arms, expressing emotions every one of us has felt. It’s nice to feel the energy of a crowd shift and a thousand people join together to sing I was waiting, waiting for anything to happen, waiting for love?, I was just waiting for this not to hurt.
The final trio of tracks rounded out the show in the most satisfying way, and yet I still sent a silent prayer to the heavens that Wolf Alice could stay onstage and I could stay in that venue until the end of time. ‘Space & Time’ is frustrated and anxious and I connected with it the very first time I heard it. There is unparalleled honesty in the lyrics – I hope my body gets better, do I mean my body or my mind? I hate the word “forever,” I hate the word “change,” I just need time – and the whole thing felt like a much-needed release. That rolled into ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ and ‘Fluffy,’ the band ending on the highest note they possibly could before heading offstage. They returned minutes later with ‘Blush’ and ‘Giant Peach,’ an encore that had me reeling. I really could not have asked for a better gig.
Wolf Alice is the kind of band that breaks down walls. Yes, they’re performing for the crowd, and yes, they’re the artists, and yes, this role is something they’ve had to work for. But they feel like they’re part of the same entity as the people watching them. They turn an entire venue into one living, breathing being. Lots of shows make you feel like you’re just watching something, but it’s even better to feel like part of it, and Wolf Alice does the latter effortlessly. Bodies pushed against mine and Theo danced for the crowd and Ellie yelled with everything she had in her. I screamed until I couldn’t force anything else out of my mouth and I watched Joff shred through guitar solos and Joel sit at his drum kit and do what he’s good at. I felt like my lungs expanded at the same time as the bands’, like my heart beat through the same rhythm and my blood pumped through my veins on the same magnetic frequency. I could live my whole life feeling like that, and I’d say yes to seeing them again in a second.