You could compare the Patrick Wolf of 2011 to the one who went around the world in 2009 and think they were different people. Two years ago melancholy and sadness formed the main themes of his work. This time around, he’s beaming with a new-found positivity and it’s shown aplenty, not only in his fifth album, Lupercalia, but in his recent live shows. As he brings the curtain down on his current UK tour at the Roundhouse, the only piece of negativity to be found is a rant about critics labelling the saxophone a thing of the 80s – he blames other artists like Duran Duran for giving it a bad rep. But even that almost seems slightly tongue-in-cheek. And very sweary.
Duran Duran-hating aside, it’s this upbeat energy that makes seeing him a fun experience with a capital ‘F’; badly needed on a Friday night when the whole week has been dominated by headlines of meltdown in the Eurozone. The evening as a whole is a joyous affair that is full of great moments that put a smile on your face, and, just when you think it doesn’t get any better, Wolf’s dad comes onstage to play saxophone to almost steal the show.
The real focus though is on his son, who makes a pop spectacle that comes as a welcome relief from the more popular likes of Rihanna and Britney Spears. There are no headsets, choreographed dancing, or fireworks to be found. Maybe because his career ambitions are now more modest compared to his past dreams of pop mega-stardom? There’s an extremely strong case for that particular argument. Either way, Wolf’s main charm is that he is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, while at the same time possessing a relaxed, engaging and warm stage presence.
Then there’s the setlist, which is a crowd-pleaser. The new record unsurprisingly gets the lion’s share. Opening with the quiet and lush Armistice on a Friday night is a bit of a gamble, but the crowd is somewhat respectfully hushed as all eyes gaze upon Wolf and his harp. It segues perfectly into Time of My Life, where everyone is allowed to let loose. The one-two hit of The Falcons and Together is a brilliant way to end his main set, but it’s nothing compared to completing the encore with The City, which is majestic and triumphant.
The rest of the show is spread fairly evenly and it seems like every song he picks out gets a fevered reaction of some sort, such is the diversity that his fanbase now encompasses. From past singles Tristan, Bluebells and Accident & Emergency, to deep album cuts Pigeon Song, The Gypsy and King, and even old b-side Godrevy Point, there’s always at least one group of fans that is wildly whooping in anticipation. This variation also allows us to see the sheer range of not just the band’s musicianship but Wolf’s. In his time on stage he played harp, piano, ukulele and violin – switching between instruments with ease.
When you look through his discography, Patrick Wolf’s career can best be described as one of many different personalities. With this incarnation you’d hope that it’s something he sticks with, and, judging by his performance, you sense that he may well do just that.
Patrick Wolf played: Armistice, Time of My Life, Time of Year, Bluebells, Pigeon Song, House, The Gypsy King, The Bachelor, Tristan, Accident & Emergency, Godrevy Point, The Days, Get Lost, The Future, The Falcons, Together. Encore: Bermondsey Street, The Magic Position, The City