After a difficult period in his professional and private life the oft-otherworldly Patrick Wolf has prepared his dream concert, with special guests for a Sunday night at that sometime bastion of light entertainment, the London Palladium.
His latest album The Bachelor, and specifically the single Hard Times, shows a spirit of protest against manipulation, weakness and stasis: “mediocrity applauded” and “ignorance is still adored”. His desire to move, grow and develop further as an artist runs right through it.
Choosing from his estimable back catalogue, Wolf tonight presented what passes in Wolf World for ‘popular numbers’ as well as some songs that are rarely performed live – indeed, some have never been performed at all. So this concert shows a touch of Patrick Wolf “the man” emerging and the retrospective nature of the show draws a faint line under his past eight years of constantly changing hairstyles and assorted images.
Somehow he managed to sum himself up in just two hours. He appeared clad in black and launched into Overture, Wolf Song and Wind In The Wires. Downplayed showmanship allowed the audience to focus on his vocals.
When pushed towards outlandish dances and extreme costumes with giant shoulderpads and generous coverings of glitter, although the outfits were all perfectly tailored, they no longer seemed to fit the personality we saw before us. He joked about bits of body that he couldn’t show us as much as he gets older and showed the beginnings of irritation with the avant-garde costumes as one lacy number became entangled with his sound equipment.
The small string section of violins, violas and cello accompanying were given some precendence under his direction, adding layers and richness to his music that only now seems to have been missing before. He also had the opportunity to show off his own musicianship, improvising with the band and four backing singers on an assortment of instruments.
Also joining him on stage was special guest and this year’s most ubiquitous lady, Florence Welch, who he called one of the best singers in Britain. She sang the title track of his latest album The Bachelor with him. Alec Empire popped up later for Battle, Hard Times and Vulture, providing a masterclass in electro entertainment and returning the favour of Wolf’s guest appearance in his own shows earlier this year.
But as someone who has taken full business and creative control of his career, proudly and brilliantly, it seemed unusual that the set and lighting was so basic. There was an absence of any staging beyond raised platforms for drummer and electrics desk and the lighting remained simple throughout. During the finale a rotating platform with a central disco ball was revealed behind a black drape, but even this was diminished by the sheer expanse of wasted space behind.
For the encore of a performance he called “the best show of my life” he chose The Magic Position and The Sun Is Often Out, which he dedicated to a friend who had recently passed away.
He signed off optimistically, looking forward to 2010, his new album and embracing his renewed sense of self. If it wasn’t the best show so far, it may certainly become the most significant, as he marks a new beginning. His performance of his earlier work now has a nostalgic air about it, but his mature delivery proved that he is on top form and ready to fly.