Wild Beasts, Erland and the Carnival, Lone Wolf

Tim Miller 12/03/2010

On a drizzly, unassuming Friday in March, there's a bit of a treat in store for those South Coastians lucky enough to have snapped up tickets to tonight's gig at Sixty Million Postcards. With a person capacity about one thousandth of its postcard count, however, plus pillars haphazardly spaced throughout the ill-equipped standing area that arches towards the cluttered performance space (“stage” would be too rich and, well, a lie), the bohemian bar is perhaps not the ideal location for seeing bands. Cosy and kitsch, yes, but the view, the layout and sound quality are all major sticking points.

Which makes it all the more surprising that Leeds-based troubadours Wild Beasts, whose creative juices poured into what was indisputably an 'album of 2009', are to be found huddling in between the speaker stacks at one end of Sixty Million Postcards on the second date of their extensive European tour. To be fair, it's a sell out, as are five of the 12 UK dates - but that's the least you'd expect for a venue that requires the punters to spend the evening angling their heads awkwardly in order to face the music.

Less than a quarter of the ticketholders are arrived (including this reviewer), though, when Lone Wolf opens up the evening. Catching him perched on a stool alternating between keyboard and the acoustic guitar across his lap, Mr Wolf - Paul Marshall to his folks -breathlessly speeds through his solo set, drily remarking that there “wasn't room on the bus” for the rest of his band. His plight is typical of the singer/songwriter in the industry right now, but their absence doesn't detract from his intricate finger-picking and vocal sincerity, which infuses gorgeous single 'Keep Your Eyes on the Road'. With other songs that come on as immediately and earnestly as this, Lone Wolf will be one to keep an eye on through 2010.

Erland and the Carnival, meanwhile, were quick out of the blocks in 2010, releasing their self-titled album into a psyche primed for a folk explosion by Mumford & Sons' success last year. But Erland and The Carnival, whose rousing folk tapestries swell and spiral in the closeness of the venue's walls, are more than hanging on the former's tweed coattails.

Where perhaps on record the band temper their quirks and experimental leanings within more delicate margins, The Carnival truly lives up to its name in the flesh. Ringleader Erland Cooper pulls the strings on vocals and guitars, inciting swirling walls of noisy folk to erupt from his five companions, making for a sumptuous 35 minutes of sound that's traditionally-hewn, but thoroughly modern in delivery.

The effortlessly smooth but stirring set has invigorated the venue by the time the Carnival is packed away, and it isn't long before tonight's headliners troop out in front of a palpably excited crowd, bunching increasingly closer to the monitors. “Come a bit closer,” urges Hayden Thorpe, the Beasts' uniquely-larynxed lead vocalist. The front rows squeeze forward an extra yard or so, standing almost eyeball to eyeball with Thorpe, and, pacified, the calm floating chords of Two Dancers opener 'The Fun Powder Plot' ooze out of the speakers.

Thorpe's majestic falsetto pierces the room, joined by a good portion of far less talented vocalists in the crowd for the opening line of the night: ”When we turn up / in our turn ups / our hearts are heavy / our heads ready”. It fits the mood perfectly: Wild Beasts proved last year that their intense, trembling, pulsating sound and interlocking rhythms were capable of capturing minds and hearts completely, and they're captured instantly here tonight: turned up and ready to bathe in Wild Beasts' glow.

And, drawing heavily on their smash hit second LP, they offer a beautifully faithful rendition of their loping, elegant songs. The most recent single 'We Still Got the Taste Dancin' on Our Tongues' is propelled along by its galloping drums, chattering guitars and bounding chorus bassline. The dark tale of lust as a bare human emotion tears into the ears of the audience, inspiring all manner of reactions: singing, clapping, jumping, clambering. Despite their covert lyrics and distinct, ringing sound, Wild Beasts have that knack of being able to establish a meaningful connection.

This happens particularly during the spell-binding (if a little slower than usual) 'This is our Lot', Hayden Thorpe (vocals, guitar, bass, keys) howling the song's second half as his compatriots Chris Talbot (drums), Ben Little (guitars) and Tom Fleming (vocals, guitar, bass, keys) lose themselves in the climax to one of Two Dancers' many highlights. But the true live highlight is the shared vocals between Thorpe and Fleming, a balance taking on a whole new level when you're close enough to see the saliva.

Fleming's broader timbre complements his partner's mastery of the high notes, yet this does little of the justice owed to the 'second' singer - he is responsible for the yelps of “Watch me! Watch me!” in 'All the King's Men', barely pausing for breath before murmuring the next line. A quite brilliant live rendition, Thorpe's wordless backing soars from behind the keyboard he's traded Fleming for the main microphone, the latter crowning the song's sordid men with his rich delivery. Equally indebted to the vocal duties is tonight's split of Two Dancers (i) and (ii), especially when the sleek-haired Thorpe's cries of “Two hearts” volley around the venue.

But it isn't all about Two Dancers (or even two singers), astonishing though their breakthrough LP is. Favourites from Limbo, Panto more than play their part in Wild Beasts' success tonight - the groove of 'Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants' is the show's monumental 'dance' moment, the crowd moved to cutting some sort of shapes in time to the gaudy jaunt of the bands' most ridiculously-titled song (and there's been a few). A surprising inclusion is the largely sedate first album closer 'Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye', but it's 'The Devil's Crayon', as part of tonight's encore with 'Empty Nest', that stuns: it's a tour de force live version that almost manages to eclipse all that's gone before it.

Such is the strength of songwriting and consummate performing by the four Cambrians, however, that the entirety of their set has been near flawless. An outstanding translation of their sparkling recorded work, the four piece leave the room humbled by the outpouring adulation ringing in the confined space. Wild Beasts are deserving of the praise, and so much more - Sixty Million Postcards has hardly the iconic stature or rich history they merit. But such a delight is rare for a Bournemouth audience, and though the music has finished and the night is dark and damp outside, tonight's exceptional gig lingers long: we still got the taste dancin' on our tongues.