Wolf Alice | Etihad Stadium | June 19th
Wolf Alice is hardly what you would call an opening act, but then the Foo Fighters aren’t just any band to open for. Following West Yorkshire indie darlings The Cribs, Wolf Alice played an hour-long set for the some 60,000 fans and small flock of birds that decided to visit Etihad Stadium last night for the Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold Tour Manchester show. The Foo Fighters are great. Theirs were one of three albums I took with me on my first trip around Europe, along with Jagged Little Pill and Cross of Changes (don’t ask), but my friend and I were at Etihad Stadium to see Wolf Alice. But there were a few decades’ worth of Foo Fighters t-shirts in the crowd, and when I did get on to the field I found myself standing next to a circle of fans wearing strictly Motörhead t-shirts and, oddly, glued-on moustaches. It had the potential to be a tough crowd for Wolf Alice.
Which perhaps sums up the blessing and the curse of opening for a band like the Foo Fighters: you get to open for one of the most beloved bands in rock at some of the biggest venues in the world, but you’re also playing for fans that are almost certainly there to see the headliner. There is a pressure to hold your own as a band and, as Ru Paul might say, not to f*’k it up. Wolf Alice didn’t do that. A beloved act in their own right, they put on a killer set as the light very (very) slowly went down on Manchester. Wolf Alice knows how to work an crowd and Ellie Rowsell (vocals guitar), Jeff Oddie (vocals, guitar, synths), Theo Ellis (bass), and Joe Amey (drums, vocals) put the crowd through the paces of the harder more rock-forward tracks from both their 2017 album Visions of Life and their debut My Love is Cool.
There’s no doubt that there is a healthy dose of Hole, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and even, at times, Tool, in their sound, but the truth is that after eight years of honing their sound, Wolf Alice is perhaps beyond the point where drawing comparisons to their influences is the best way to approach them as a band. The performance last night bent more toward the ‘teeth-baring rock’ descriptions of their music than to ‘hypnotic electric folk’, but Wolf Alice was playing to their audience, and their sound is every bit their own. The show was the kind of tight, electrifying, and practised performance you would expect from a band that has is acclaimed and celebrated as Wolf Alice is and has been since they formed in 2010.
Watching Wolf Alice last night it was hard not to want to see them in a smaller venue. That’s not because they were drowned out by the size of the stadium or still-bright sky (which Dave Grohl, at around 10, would note when he said when does the f*#king sun go down around here), but because with a band like Wolf Alice you kind of hope that you’ll get to see them in smaller places for a bit longer. You probably will. But at the same time it’s hard not to be happy that they’re playing gigs for bands that are arguably ageing into the twilight years of their music. The Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age – who Wolf Alice opened for at some of their Villains tour – are hardly heritage acts banking, literally, on nostalgia and the fears of ‘this might be their last show’; Wolf Alice is a stellar act coming along for the ride with other stellar acts they’ll one day replace as headliners.
The Foo Fighters would seem to be thinking along the same lines, and brought Wolf Alice on tour with them as part of a move to bring focus to and celebrate “strong female” and younger artists. It’ll be bands like Wolf Alice and The Cribs that Grohl’s daughter Violet – who was nested in the stage scaffolding for the night’s performances – will be more likely to come up on and remember than her dad’s band or others born in the now long past grunge-era. Performance aside, that was one of the best things about last night’s show. The Foo Fighters put on a rock show for rocks fans that looked to both honour and celebrate the past (Chris Cornell’s face was on drummer Taylor Hawkin’s kit), but also looked to the life that rock and indie music enjoys now and will in the future.
More than ‘a lovechild of folk and grunge’, Wolf Alice are what a great contemporary band looks like. People can keep counting the grey hairs on the old kings of rock or stressing about Grohl’s ability to keep screaming – which he can – but I think one of the answers to whether rock music is in trouble is ‘who cares?’. Why? Because we get acts like Wolf Alice. Stadiums or no stadiums, big as rock used to be or not, bands like Wolf Alice are the artists that are carrying the genre on their shoulders. If you take a Motörhead fan with a glued-on moustache as a thermometer for how well a band is doing at playing to a crowd that extends outside their fan-base, then Wolf Alice was, based on said fan’s clear appreciation, in no trouble at all. 60,000 or so lights and a stunning trip down memory lane with Foo Fighters was still to come that night. But Wolf Alice gave us all something more to look forward to: more Wolf Alice and the strong younger artists they were so rightly chosen to represent.
They’ll be playing two more shows with the Foo Fighters in London on the 22nd and 23rd. So, you know, check ’em out if you can.
by Chad Campbell