Anyway, here's a review of the Patrick Wolf gig in Toronto this last October. It was a cracker.
A contingent of hardcore fans lined the front of the small, chin-high stage. They were encrusted with glitter - their hair, the bandit stripes across their eyes, the swirls on their shoulders. It could have been a Bowie concert circa 1972. But it wasn't.
No, this was a Patrick Wolf show at Lee's Palace in downtown Toronto last night. This fact makes it no less exciting. Nor does it make it any less mythical. For Patrick Wolf has already become myth at age twenty-four. He is otherworldly, much like a potent mixture of David Bowie and Kate Bush. He oozes both sex and childlike innocence and abides by no particular rules. His style changes just as much as Bowie's has; one day he wears stegosaurus trousers, the next he wears an impossibly tight pair of aquamarine shorts and suspenders. And of course he can pull it off with the aplomb of an unabashed original.
I, myself, have been a huge fan of Patrick Wolf for a couple of years now. His first album, Lycanthropy, full of distorted beats and wolf-like howls, and stories of captured children and Peter Pan, captivated me. Electronic sounds and drum machines are seamlessly mixed with violins and accordian. Wolf isn't his real last name, but it becomes a fitting moniker and persona for the fantastical being and his three albums to date. His second album, Wind in the Wires, retains the magic of his previous storytelling, but pairs it with a generally mellower and folkier sound. His latest LP, The Magic Position, his first major label release, is different yet again with its joyful gypsy-like songs. A theme of escape and heedless abandon runs through all three, a boundless energy that transports you from mundane realities into a fairy netherworld that exists in a twilight of dark deeds and festive flights of freedom. Needless to say, when I finally got a chance to see him live, I took it, three hours on a bus and all.
Even though I arrived more than an hour before the doors were scheduled to open, the glittering obsessives were already there, listening to Patrick Wolf songs from one of the fan's stereo purse (songs which competed with the actual soundcheck taking place just behind a side door). They alternately sprinkled glitter over each other and blew bubbles with mini-bubble-wands. One wore a headband that looked like some sort of Egyptian headgear at first glance; on closer inspection, it was a headband with a tiny giraffe stuck to it (the giraffe - like the unicorn - being one of the beasts associated with the Patrick Wolf mythology). Some fans actually brought a bouquet of sunflowers and others brought their own special effects - in addition to the bubble wands, they also had streamers and maracas. As I soon discovered, the fans would time each use of the appointed props to specific points in songs, having a bit of a Rocky Horror Show quality to it.
During the palpable tension before Wolf came onstage, one fan asked another, "Is this your first time seeing him?" The other replied that indeed it was. The first responded with "Do you think it will be strange seeing him for real? It's like he's not real." One fan was leaping and screaming in excitement far before Wolf was due to come on - it was as though he was exploding with Christmas morning anticipation; he also draped a sunflower over the monitor directly in front of Wolf's microphone.
Wolf came on stage wearing a blond, curly wig and a gold collar akin to a disco Jacobean ruff. His body was awash with the same glitter as his glistening fans, giving him a magical, alien presence. His short cut-offs displayed long, sparkling legs with knee-high, nearly invisible net stockings and feet thrust into turquoise shoes reminscent of children's shoes at the turn of the century. As the gig progressed, he lost most of his clothing, revealing the unicorn tattooed to his chest, and he ended up in just his shorts and stockings, his blond hair tousled and spiked with sweat. Someone in the crowd shouted, "Take your shorts off." Wolf smiled and replied, "I can't. I'm not wearing any underwear." Perhaps as gender ambiguous as Bowie in the '70's, Wolf is astoundingly even more beautiful in real life than he is in photos.
As far as the song choices, he stayed well within the realm of his more popular and/or released singles ("The Libertine," "To the Lighthouse," "Wind in the Wires," "Accident and Emergency," "Teignmouth," etc). He bounced from violin to ukulele to keyboards and back again, displaying incredible musical versatility. His accompaniment was an additional violin, drums, some programmed sounds, and an upright bass. It was a pleasant change to actually be able to hear a singer's voice and lyrics so easily over the music - no distortion at all. My only complaint (and it's a tiny one) would be that I would have liked to hear one or two b-sides and/or cover songs. I would have personally loved to hear him sing "Adder" or Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" live. I will admit that I danced, and jumped, and screamed with the best of them, feeling like a reckless child - I'm paying for it today, but it's yet another price I'm willing to pay for Mr. Wolf.
During the final song (the propulsive "The Magic Position") of the set proper, fans fired streamers onto the stage and Wolf ended up festooned in them. The whole show was truly like one big celebration as Wolf danced and jumped as much as the fans and continually smiled and laughed. Sometimes he would sit or lie on the stage and peer from behind the monitors; other times, he stalked across the stage like his predatory namesake. Between songs, he would talk to the audience, often making them laugh, and several of the songs were prefaced with self-deprecating banter that made him seem like a shy child ready to perform a recital. At one point, he suggestively unfolded his lanky body across the keyboard. The constant flux between a joyful innocence and a sexy suggestiveness created a mesmerizing, disarming duality. When he sings, "Come get lost with me," you do.
He returned for two encores - the haunting "Magpie," duetting with Bishi (his incredible opening act who blends sitar with electronic beats - highly recommended) and "Bloodbeat" - and nearing the end, he wore a disco ball-like beret. However, even after "Bloodbeat" finished, Wolf seemed reluctant to leave the stage and skipped and cantered about singing snatches of Whigfield's "Saturday Night" and Gina G's "Ooh Ah" - bizarre choices that nonetheless fit with his boyish exuberance.
It may be a bit presumptuous to say at this early stage in his career, but I felt like I had witnessed something very significant, perhaps on par with Bowie's Ziggy Stardust days. With his versatility, charisma, and massive imagination, I'm betting that Patrick Wolf will be renowned in the years to come, and these early days will be looked back upon with envy by those who weren't there to see it firsthand.
When I left the gig at two in the morning, the sidewalk shimmered with both newly fallen rain and glitter, creating a path both urban and fairy-like at the same time. The mundane transformed into something magical.
Running Up That Hill - Patrick Wolf