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Live Review: Wolf Alice at O2 Academy Sheffield

 by Emily Duff

As I stepped into the O2 Academy, I was greeted by overflowing crowds battling to get the best view. With everyone walking past either dressed like they’re in an episode of Euphoria with glitter smeared everywhere or a punk rocker with mullet haircuts and an abundance of head-to-toe denim or leather jackets.

When I arrived, I was just in time to catch the final song from Matt Maltese. “As the World Caves in” echoed throughout the venue - a hauntingly beautiful track reminiscent of Radiohead’s Motion Picture Soundtrack with its moody, movie soundtrack style. Maltese penned the song in 2016, shortly after Theresa May won the vote to renew the UK's Trident nuclear weapon and that bitterness can really be heard in his voice - especially going on to discover its plot of hinging around the idea of a night of passion between Theresa May (the UK Prime Minister at the time) and Donald Trump (the US President at the time). This has since been revoked and replaced with a more general apocalyptic feeling - but still a humorous beginning nonetheless.

Starting with beautiful piano chords and moody stage lighting, the line “It’s you that I lie with” creates a pink lighting shift over Maltese. This shift continued on each line to orange and purple and blue and around the colours of the rainbow to create a more interesting syncopated effect than the usual stillness or strobe options.

Matt Maltese - photo by Darling representative
Matt Maltese - photo by Darling representative

After a short break, Wolf Alice entered the stage. Immediately putting a big emphasis on cheering and the crowd getting hyped up, guitarist, Joff, looked even more excited than some of the fans to be there. Going crazy - Joff quickly developed a veiny neck and was sweating by the 2nd song. His excitement radiated through the crowd and definitely put a smile on my face. Without a word from Ellie, they went straight into ‘Smile’ - an upbeat grunge-meets-pop track that set the mood for the night and brought attention to their Pandemic album, Blue Weekend. The line, “ don’t like me / Well that isn’t F*cking relevant” being most appealing to the crowd of die-hard fans.

The setlist then switched from ‘You’re a Germ’ to ‘Formidable Cool’ - changing vibes quickly between gentle and aggressive but remaining emotional and heartfelt in their tone. With lyrics from ‘You’re a Germ’ such as “This is not exploring / When you are dead inside / What were you before him?” leaving a sinister stomach-sinking feeling throughout the audience.

Moving away, pink lighting suddenly took over as they began to play ‘Delicious Things’. The passion from the crowd really came through with this song as every voice could be heard belting, “...I won't say no, I’ll give it go”. Bringing up the atmosphere, the crowd clearly desperate for more uplifting tracks, they immediately began swaying along. Proving Wolf Alice to be great at the skill of building tension between tracks. 

During this tune, my eyes felt drawn to the disco ball above that showered the almost hypnotised crowd. It was so beautiful to watch, as though in a movie scene - as I moved to the balcony to get a better view of the crowd I felt I had become a camera-like observer to the young people seeing their heroes below.

Lots of strobe lighting straight away kicked off - stepping into a range of colours similar to Maltese, with mainly shades of green pooling over the audience. Just in time for a guitar solo to take place within the ‘Lipstick on the Glass’ and ‘Planet Hunter’ crossover.

Wolf Alice - photo by Darling representative

Suddenly even more colourful - the stage developed blues and pinks until suddenly a swap to red & blue indicated the imminent drum solo. Intense like a movie, ‘Bros’ began to play reminiscent of the middle enlightening scene in a coming-of-age movie through lines like “Stick it out together like we always do / Oh, there's no one / There's no one quite like you”. This then moved on with the crowd soulfully clapping along for the acoustic section of  “I tell u all the time”

‘Safe from heartbreak (If You Never Fall In Love)’ then became slow & soulful with almost folk guitar chords before moving on to a more pop genre track of ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ that ends with super controlled vocals of the repeated titular line finishing the song. 

The funky guitar riff and catchy end chorus really stuck with me, leaving me humming this on my way out of the venue. Clearly popular with the crowd too, this was also the turning point of people gradually moving onto shoulders to get a better view of the band and demonstrate their lyric learning abilities. Chanting from the crowd, their visible excitement at hearing this song live finally after two years of pandemic rescheduling and cancellations left goosebumps on my arms.

Another from their latest album, ‘Play The Greatest Album’ was a total change in vibe reminding me of the Riot GRRRL pop-rock songs of the ‘90s and early two-thousands. Something that further demonstrates Ellie’s vocal and genre range. Bright green strobe came back for this one as the crowd developed from swaying together to moshing against each other - people of all ages looked elated to be bashed about to this soon-to-be indie classic.

And then it was slow again. ‘Silk’, a track from one of their earlier albums, began calming the crowd. This edging technique seen on Harry Styles Tour via TikTok was well utilised. Leaving the crowd absorbing the 

Not necessarily my favourite album track, ‘Silk’ live in person was something different. The final lines had me in my feelings and certainly had the crowd screaming along. Taking the track from a soulful ballad to a heartfelt sing-a-long of passion and, unfortunately, overexciting the right side of the stage.

O2 Academy Sheffield - photo by Darling representative

Suddenly the band noticed a crowd member seemed to collapse in the crowd. Close to the barrier, thankfully the light caught them and allowed Wolf Alice to call out the incident. However, to my surprise, they quickly began playing.

Initially thinking they were able to continue, they realised that the lights had dimmed along with their track beginning. Agin, they thoughtfully stopped to let staff remove the person from the crowd and ensure their safety - something I hope all bands do in future. Noticing your fans are safe and comfortable is a big part of the performance. Ignorance is easy to brush off for various reasons such as lighting, distance or focus but at the end of the day, noticing these details and doing what can be done to help is more important than the flow of tracks.

Although incurring a little delay - it was 100% worth it for the safety of their fans. Waiting for the thumbs up from all staff before playing, the security continued to pass water out as the next song started up

‘Visions of A Life’ had both the guitarist (Joff) and the more meek Theo (bass) on the edge of the stage. This then quickly moved to ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ which seemed to give everyone in the building a sudden energy rush. Wolf Alice had been clever and had saved up for this song. Bouncing immediately began within the crowd from the very first guitar chord in this track and a visual sudden surge toward the stage was made. From an older album, My Love Is Cool, I can’t see this being removed from a setlist anytime soon.

Then, moving back to their newest tracks again, ‘No Hard Feelings’ changed the lighting to a blackout across the crowd. Mirroring the opening of the gig, the passion and subtle sadness could be heard echoing throughout. The emotion behind lyrics like “When it was tough to hear your name / Crying in the bathtub / To "Love Is A Losing Game"” perfectly exemplifies the Amy Winehouse style melancholy of this track

Wolf Alice - photo by Darling representative
Energy surge took over again before the final song with ‘Giant Peach’ creating a mega mosh for that one. Suddenly over in what seemed like a flash, the band went away to continue the teasing we’ve seen all night in the setlist, ending on a dramatic held guitar key.

“One more song” more than immediately began to come from the crowd…

And they more than immediately came back on - with each member saying “calm down calm down calm down”.

Wolf Alice began the encore with ‘The Last Man on Earth’, another track from the new album. This opened with, “Who are you to ask for anything more” - the first lyric bringing a beautiful swaying voice from the crowd but leaving my mind wandering at the link to that track being a response to the crowd demanding “one more song”.

Then the line “Light to shine on you” suddenly brought out all the phone torches. As these came out, “I love you Ellie” was yelled from the crowd - was this a passionate comment drawn out from the emotional song? Or potentially the realisation that this could be the last track they have the opportunity to yell a message over?

Suddenly Ellie sang “The thing you should be asking is for help” and the emotion from crowds sing-along combined with the movement on from the phones’ light due to the arm sways incurred, seemed to leave everyone emotional including tears from Ellie on stage.

Finally, and arguably their biggest record, ‘Don't Delete the Kisses’ was their chosen ending track. With the audience starting before Ellie could get there with the lyrics, all of their pent up excitement was finally released in one - a beautiful note to leave it on.

I absolutely loved the versatility of this band and the clearly curated setlists using their mix of genre to raise the best response from their crowd. I can’t wait to see Wolf Alice again soon.

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