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- Patrick Wolf »
There's a sense of pilgrimage languishing in the queue tonight. A gathering of assorted aloof skinny types, a mini cult of not-very-sensible young thespians who've left their coats at home. They look as genuinely excited as I feel, yet all fresh-faced and shivering. They have designer hedge-trimmed hair to extenuate just how malnourished they are - both literally and culturally. Too clever-clever and old of soul for new-rave fads but too young not to believe that Patrick Wolf, London's favourite anti-hero, is one of the most important and significant artists of our generation.
Tonight is a funny one from the off. Whilst you never wanted to hear the authentic, bash-around-the-head realness of Nash talking abou' how gash her parents are, it's head lop-siding hearing Patrick moan about his dad’s opinions of his old songs. According to his dad they're not "personal enough" - Patrick doesn't agree and gets all petulant as the already a bit cringe-worthy oh-no-what-is-he-wearing-and-did-he-just-do-that-wiggle opening to the show slowly shimmies from bad to worse. He's meant to be our leader, the aloof outsider, some kind of raised-by-goblins orphan genius, a waif digi-folk-wizard, or at least a reputable romanticized crack-chic fiend; decadently grazing in some realm above us, here to offer us hope whilst inspiring and enthralling us children of the palm of his hand, like his records do. Yet he's stood onstage acting like some suburban skid-stained kid in mutated charity shop off-cuts.
The curtain closes and the support set of b-sides - and one-offs like_ 'Demolition' from his incredible debut _Lycanthropy - is finally over. People that seemed enchanted in the lime-lit dark look bemused, especially as the red blotch burnt into their retinas of Owen Pallett is still a meandering memory fading off stage. A Final Fantasy support slot would have been, well, nice, especially to build to the main event but tonight, sadly it seems, Patrick's home and proud and dangerously confident. Surely he can pull some magic out for part two and save it?
For set two he hopscotches through 'the hits' from the seemingly fan-shunned (but new fan-winning) major label debut Magic Position, replete with all those camp thigh slaps for drums and G.A.Y. plundering, Girls Aloud poses, rubbing himself up against the lingering strings. It is, sadly, like he's disowned his songs, going through the motions like an 'entertainwhore' for our pleasure. His sparkles are no longer imagined and seem only to be stuck on to deflect any negative thoughts in the front row....
Tonight is a sorry sight. Maybe he was the same this summer at the festivals but was blurred out by the booze haze but tonight he's like Dennis Pennis on_ Blue Peter_. None of his dance 'moves' are ever fully realised but it's the talking between songs where he's taking all the magic away, as he babbles on like one of those childish and earnest Glastonbury-dreamer normality fearers, desperate to escape suburban drudgery of having somewhere with unpacked boxes and bills to pay. Even his attempt to liven things up by climbing on an extractor fan about 12 foot off the ground is like watching something out of a bad Italian art house movie where gargoyles come alive and shake in budget bad lighting, hoping the audiences imagination will make it into something special.
There was something about Mister Wolf, full of the energy that the fear of others - or more so himself - brings, but after a year on the road this once shy boy-wonder seems to treat the warmth of the hometown crowd and the seemingly all too familiar venue, in which he's probably seen his heroes play in over the past few years, as something so comfortable that he's treating it like his living room. His eyes flit camply from friend to eye lid like a staged fight, his 'moments' condensed into court jester posturing. His choruses falter and become some drug mule from Camden's half-idea of Bowie, with a real mic’ for a comb. For someone who this summer at Bestival and Latitude made me dance and throw myself around and who on his first two records hit me with that thrust of theatrical edgy-pop, tonight is, sadly, about as threatening as a horse tail for a glock and works about as well as trying to rob a bank with a fist-full of posies.
He soldiers on, either ambivalent to tonight's minor catastrophe or on the verge of a breakdown, he's dropping his voice octaves and spreading his arms wide, throwing irony where his heart once clung, instead of sticking his fingers beneath the ribs of something scant, something solemn, something only a kid in a bedroom could feel. 'The Libertine' becomes some bad post-Wham! slam. Frankly he seems more interested in what his ridiculous costume is doing than any of the sensations in his songs. On record even hi the beats feel clumped with blood and dust, yet what's flung across the room tonight is some doodled outline of what these songs mean and everything is pale like dieing bush dogs and eroded like the fur of desert donkeys. If only the atmosphere (killed by full-on bright lights for much of the show) and the performance didn't feel almost amateur dramatics-ish and repeatedly poke ye olde cringe reflex. We came tonight because we want tragedy that is beyond us, something that seizes our hearts 'n' minds anchored to this Carling-stained theatre floor. We wanted to forget we're surrounded by glo-stick waiving kids dressed in top shop slop, 'coming out' for a night away from fist fights...
As 'To the Lighthouse'_ builds the neon grave dwellers swarm and bounce to the programmed beats. Patrick looks strangely sulky, like we're owed this, like this old song that played a major part in building this throng, is what we want him to do forever and what we've paid for, like we don't care about the bright rainbows of the new stuff and just want soundtracks to drunk seagulls in black 'n' white static passing over white cliffs. What he maybe doesn't seem to get or maybe does and is afraid of, is that we want him honest, true and fantastical, and for tonight to be special, outta reach, artistically otherworldly, majestic even; not some Baileys-slurping pop-pantomime with the vocals so over-emphasised that the words are skimmed of their emotion and meaning. It strangely throws up a question, how, in an age of so much harsh and pre-packaged reality, how human do we want our stars to be? Do we, in wanting these fragile souls to help us escape the drudgery through entertainment, as fans and journalists (web 2.0 we're all the media and all that jazz) inhumanely expect far too much and should we just accept what we're given?
I/We fucking love you Patrick, tonight won't stop us believing and cherishing you but please take that break, crawl back into your chrysalis and come back when you've sorted yourself out.
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- In Photos: Patrick Wolf @ Old Vic Theatre, London
- In Photos: Lovebox Festival 2012 @ Victoria Park, London
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- In Photos: Patrick Wolf @ Sheffield University
- In Photos: Patrick Wolf @ Reading Festival 2011