Patrick Wolf at Bush Hall
Even before he had appeared, Patrick Wolf’s presence was tangible. A grand piano, harp, acoustic guitar, viola, zither and synthesiser littered the stage. This range of musical possibilities, considering the singer-songwriter is a solo act, provided an exciting foreword to the main event. When he came on, that presence was reinforced by his grand stature, reflective features and unique clothing. His music from the outset was harmonious, with thick textures and jazzy elements that provided a wash of impressionistic, colourful sound. In several tracks (for example Magpie and Teignmouth), these elements were expressed in the instrumental introductions, extended by improvisation. Inevitably, however, this free style would become a lot more formalised and regular when he began singing.
Wolf’s vocals were impressive: he had strong control, a large range and an intriguing arsenal of techniques, such as deep guttural notes sliding up into the falsetto register and non-sung sounds like sighs and talking. Despite his casual approach to the performance and the free style, his tuning was accurate and he sang in a rousing and powerful way, effectively conveying a forlorn, almost yearning emotion (especially in Armistice). Indeed, it was possible to hear an influence from David Sylvian, another London musician, albeit of the older generation, and this was confirmed by the experimental sounds that joined the more conventional piano or guitar playing. For example, the artist employed the use of a synthesiser at times, setting down long loops that he layered slowly with singing and instrumental music. In Demolition this created a rounded and welcome contrast from the songs that didn’t often seem to escape the heartfelt ballad style.
What unfortunately did undermine Wolf’s mostly successful concert, however, were the mistakes. On more than one occasion he stumbled over the lyrics and instead of continuing, he stopped, and in Land’s End even started again from the beginning. This punctured the atmosphere somewhat, but when the musician did get going again he played well. It did not, however, damage his performance too much, perhaps because of his confident, comfortable and relaxed engagement with the audience, who were consequently very supportive. In between numbers, he would tell the stories that influenced his songs, tell jokes and mock himself. The resultant contrast between his very emotive, forlorn music and relaxed, almost comically self-deprecating attitude made the show an ultimately worthwhile, if not astounding, experience, and it was clear that the audience appreciated this juxtaposition.
Photos: Yufan Wang
For further information and future events visit Patrick Wolf’s website here.
Watch the video for The City here: