Patrick Wolf - Hollywood Forever Masonic Lodge - September 13, 2011
Better than... midnight mass.
Patrick Wolf has never been one for moderation, whether invoking his howling namesake on 2003's electro Lycanthropy or a lovestruck schoolboy on 2007's orchestral The Magic Position. The Londoner is an artist better defined by emotions than any kind of musical genre, and that's why he's one of the few today who can still pull off concept albums--and the theatrical live performances to accompany them.
Admittedly, going into the show, I was less than excited to hear tracks off of this year's Lupercalia, a record so innocuous that the video for lead single "The City" looks like a Gap commercial. But when I entered the venue and saw wall-to-wall chairs* and a stage that conspicuously lacked instruments that could be struck or plugged in, my heart sank. Could the once Bowie-invoking performer really be going soft?
But then Wolf opened his mouth. He began the set from the back of the intimate, church-like hall with a mic-less, booming a capella rendition of his song "London," slowly making his way up to the stage.
Wolf is a performer, to be sure, but the evening's bare-bones set was a strong reminder that he is first and foremost a classically-trained musician. His yearning, dramatic baritone is something to go down in the (music) history books, with the rare ability to sound as good live as it does on record--and perhaps even better. Moreover, his prowess as a multi-instrumentalist allowed him to adeptly strip down the night's songs to their most basic elements and still have them hold up.
Aggressive electro numbers like "Tristan" and "Hard Times" took on a new -- but just as sharp -- edge as acoustic renditions. Conversely, already-minimal tunes like "Wind in the Wires" were played with a confession-like rawness that moved the crowd to tears. I even found myself enjoying "The City," now having been freed from the cheesy clutches of its sax line.
Despite its minimal elements, the show suffered from its share of technical difficulties, with tuning and micing problems leading to extended inter-song stage banter from Wolf. Not a bad thing, actually, given the intimacy of the show. As soulful and brooding as he is as a singer, he's equally witty, gracious and charming as a showman.
"Well, if you can't say you've been to a good show, you can say you've been to a haunted one," he joked as his mic seemed to turn itself on and off throughout the night.
That sort of unpredictability is about the only thing one can expect from Wolf.
"If you want the disco, play the record," he teased before launching into "Together." Point taken.
Critical Bias: *I hate seated shows.
The Crowd: Limited - maybe only a couple hundred people at capacity. Folks ranged from art school kids to "cool parents;" Anthropologie patrons and queer teens in full force, as well as some hardcore devotees who drove from Seattle and Arizona
Random Notebook Dump: There's that saying, "He can read me the phonebook"...Patrick Wolf can sing me the phonebook.
Set List below.