Ever the changeling, Patrick Wolf at least allowed us to catch our breath between adopting a new image and unveiling the next one. Victorian urchin, beat poet, dayglo pop boy: he’d always give us six months to get used to each incarnation. But onstage at Heaven he’s on a six-minute turnaround: pop to the bar at your peril, for it’ll be a whole different show when you return.
The jerky electro of Oblivion ushers in a caped Nosferatu figure; and the cape is discarded to reveal a fetishistic porcupine for the thunderous Tristan. The hair extensions are untressed: coupled with the telephone operator mic, this makes for a startlingly Christina Aguilera-esque rendition of The Magic Position.
The extensions are torn off and thrown into the audience (no indie front man’s sweaty T-shirts here), and Patrick’s strutting back and forth in Robert Mapplethorpe leather trousers, buckskin waistcoat and totem necklaces. Then, encouraged by screams at both the higher and lower ends of the register, he’s down to an S&M harness as he go-go dances his way through a set which leans audaciously heavily on his upcoming fourth album The Bachelor.
The only remnants of the old Wolf are the audience who, with their tweed trousers, braces and embroidered animals are like the ghosts of Patrick’s past. There might be some catching up to do on the fashion front, but they’ve all heard the new album already. If the word-perfect singalongs are anything to go by, most have signed up to the Bandstock ruse, whereby fans buy shares in the album and get to hear it before everyone else.
And what an album. Review to follow, of course; but for those who haven’t heard it, it’s very very good, and works superbly live. As you’d hope, there are the usual rabble-rousing anthems (Battle, Oblivion, Vulture) and yearning torch songs (Who Will, Damaris); but this time it’s underscored by a new Celtic-folk sensibility which echoes the second half of Kate Bush‘s Hounds Of Love.
Patrick handles this genre-bending effortlessly, one moment posturing on his podium and whipping the crowd up like a diva doing an hour-long PA at G-A-Y; the next crouched behind an electric piano doing a hushed, tinkly number about his family (Blackdown), the crowd closely in tow as they switch from adoring whoops to wide-eyed silence.
The intimacy of the venue helps; as does the new band, a muscular outfit dominated by a double-drummer assault but softened by some terrific viola playing. This allows Patrick to move away from the troubadour image and focus on the Jagger-esque front man act: not that anyone in their right mind would want to see Mick Jagger in an S&M harness, of course.
An hour in, and he’s offstage for a matter of seconds, only to return in yet another breathtaking costume, this time a jet-black, masked, zippered and sequined vulture uniform, such as Leigh Bowery might have worn if the Marquis de Sade were his tailor. Two dark, Krautrock-y, strobe-drenched encores – forthcoming single Vulture (what else?) and the early Bloodbeat – and he’s gone; and the doors of Heaven are open for clubbing. It may be London’s swishiest gay venue, but it certainly hasn’t seen anything this fabulous for a long time.