Wilton Music Hall
Wilton Music Hall is a special venue. Built in 1836, it has preserved its aura while aging gracefully – it looks fragile but feels safe and is located on a backstreet opposite one of London’s “most notorious shelters”. In short, it’s your classic hidden gem; a graceful reminder of a lost east London that’s been gradually swallowed by urban decay, now resurrected by gentrification, but still somehow removed from it. When the bankers move in and out again, Wilton will remain as a testimony to times gone by. I can recommend no venue in London higher.
As for Wild Beasts, I first saw them at The Windmill, Brixton, back in a year I can’t even remember. The Windmill is, in its own dishevelled, scout-hut way, completely unique, and this remains one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. As someone who used to watch average bands for a living, anything with the smallest hint of originality is never forgotten and something with as many standout elements as Wild Beasts becomes one you always look for in the listings and record racks.
The first thing I noticed this time around is how much Wild Beats have changed on stage. They have more toys, more members and more sounds. Tom Fleming, who used to sing a bit and play bass, was always the centre point that the band revolved around, and so it remains, but now it seems more obviously so. He steps from bass to guitar, to keyboards, to synth and back to lead vocals in between and during songs.
It’s a natural step, and one that shows why Wild Beats “work”, but it also has the unfortunate effect of side-lining some of the more unique aspects of the band. A bit like asking Puyol to play behind the front two while sticking Messi at left-back, it’s a move that works just because everyone involved is so damn good, but you’d rather have it the other way round.
After gnawing away at such a small detail, however, it’s time to take a step-back and look at the big picture. I’m watching one of the most unique bands in the world play in London’s best venue. Wild Beasts are a perfect mirror for their surroundings; a recently discovered and restored archive that reminds you of a different time, but is definitely a product of the here and now.
Tonight the crowd greet ‘Albatross’ with the same fervour that welcomes old favourite ‘Hooting and Howling’, and the band seem relieved to be on home-turf and playing to an audience that has found them and holds them dear. This is probably why it all seems a little too comfortable. There has been development, sure, but yet they’ve somehow managed to stand still. But, then, if you’ve had crowds shout “weird” at you for nearly ten years and now you’ve got hundreds in the palm of your hand, it’s tempting to plough the same turf and provide an easy slam-dunk as Wild Beasts do tonight.
In future though, if this band really wants to push on creatively, now is the time to do so. It may require musical shifts that their newfound audience of Mercury panellists and broadsheet readers shun, but they’ll soon come running back.
Wilton Music Hall can survive a hundred and fifty years and take on a new resonance, a band cannot. They are slowly shifting creative creatures that ebb, flow and need constant regeneration with new horizons to conquer. Wild Beasts have climbed a mountain and deserve their acclaim, but now it’s time to set-up a new base-camp.
By Olly Parker
Originally published in issue 28 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2011