Gig review: Wild Beasts at Canal Mills, Leeds

Wild Beasts. Picture: Klaus Thymann
Wild Beasts. Picture: Klaus Thymann
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2014 has been kind to Wild Beasts. Their fourth album ‘Present Tense’ evidenced a newfound maturity and substance. Released in February, the album moved the quartet closer to the mainstream by hitting the Top 10 after seven years or so in the ‘critically acclaimed’ corner.

For all the praise the album and the tireless touring that followed it has won, its compelling combination of lust and loss deserved even more love from the end-of-year praise panels.

To describe the welcome Wild Beasts receive from this sizeable near-hometown crowd (although originally from Kendal, the band paid their dues in the less sparkly boozers of Leeds) as warm is a bit of an understatement. Even so, it’s no match to the shimmering heat of Wild Beasts’ updated sound; simultaneously rooted in such forward-gazing 80’s acts as Talk Talk and totally contemporary, it’s undeniably pop, but with zero interest in easy answers.

‘Present Tense’ welcomed synths and (for want of a fresher term) the funk to the band’s arsenal, which had up to that point been built on intricate rhythms, shifting time signatures and spidery guitar licks. Tonight, there’s a balance between the old and the new, as low-end bass rumble and electronic emissions share the spotlight with the organic thrills of a well-oiled band working together with near-telepathic interplay. Topped with the deliciously contrasting vocal styles of Hayden Thorpe (angelic falsetto) and Tom Fleming (gruff baritone), the instrument-swapping band manage to cook up a richly detailed sound with few ingredients. The aptly titled ‘Simple Beautiful Truth’ manages to build up an unstoppable momentum with little more than drums and a few keyboard chords, not to mention more sharp melodic hooks than most bands manage across entire albums. Next to this, the exotic vibes of some of the older material – enthusiastically received as it is – can’t help but seem self-consciously quirky.

The moments when the band allow themselves a longer leash suggest Wild Beasts may be capable of even more. The extended coda to ‘Wanderlust’ builds into a fearsome racket, every bit as powerful as the disorientating light show that brings a bit of welcome warmth to the venue (you understand why Fleming’s sporting a woolly hat on stage: the heating facilities of the cavernous Canal Mills are no match to the grizzly conditions outside). The generously portioned line-up (Fryers and Mercury-nominated East India Youth provide support) concludes with a DJ set from Nathan Fake, but it’s hard to imagine how anything could top this masterful display from a band celebrating the culmination of a year of wildly successful reinvention.

Gig date: December 11