Editor’s Note: The photos for this story are from Wolf Alice’s October 29 show at the Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles, but the review is of their October 30 show at August Hall in San Francisco.
I was in San Francisco covering Outside Lands 2021 this past weekend. Initially, I had tickets to see an aftershow in Oakland, but then I checked the calendar and saw British indie-rock favorites Wolf Alice had a show that same night but in SF at August Hall. I was unable to catch either of their Teragram Ballroom shows and thus I was able to get on the list for the show in SF — thanks to Wolf Alice’s team.
This is the first time Wolf Alice has played America since June of 2018 when they wrapped up a US tour. It was long overdue their fans here in the states finally got to see them again.
I’m gonna say it right now — Wolf Alice’s latest record Blue Weekend should win the quartet a GRAMMY. Their third record, they’ve really hit their strides on this one. On Saturday night, they wound up playing nine of the eleven tracks — everything but the two Beach tracks that bookend the record.
The set kicked off with the lead single from the album “Smile” — where singer and primary songwriter Ellie Rowsell flexes her skills in a fast-paced lyrical manner. By the time the chorus hit, the crowd was bouncing around. They followed it up with an old favorite “You’re a Germ” — the first time the band has played this song on this North American tour.
A couple of songs from their sophomore record Visions of a Life followed — “Beautifully Unconventional” and “Formidable Cool” — before a run of songs from the new record. “Lipstick on the Glass” is a beautifully written tune, and the final breakdown as Rowsell sings “I’ll take you back — yeah I know it seem surprising when there’s lipstick” and then the rest of the band comes in as she sings “still on the glass”. That gave me goosebumps.
Oftentimes it takes me hearing new songs live to fully appreciate them, and that was taken to new heights on Saturday. It was wild to see how into the new songs the crowd was. Oftentimes you see them waiting around for their old favorites, but they embraced the new songs with the same kind of excitement, and it was palpable to the band. Bass player Theo Ellis made a remark about how much it means to see them singing along to new songs following one of the Blue Weekend tracks.
Old favorite “Bros” was a big singalong. “How Can I Make It OK?” is an emotional rollercoaster, which was nicely followed by the punk shouting of “Play the Greatest Hits”. The band closed their set with “The Last Man On Earth”, arguably the best song the band has ever written. They returned to the stage for an encore of Visions of a Life lead single (and previously my favorite Wolf Alice song) “Don’t Delete The Kisses”.
Wolf Alice is a band hitting their prime right now and it’s wild to remember I saw them play to modest crowds at SXSW in 2015. The songwriting is on par with anything in rock music and the live performance is right up there as well. I hope they can get some big supporting slots for stadium and arena rock bands in the future — because their sound is big enough to fill the bigger rooms.
Words by Mark Ortega
Photos by Justin Higuchi