Show Review: Patrick Wolf At The Music Gallery

By Elena Gritzan

“I was there first, Lady Gaga.”  Patrick Wolf had just emerged for his encore with a tall black headdress obscuring his face.  He is certainly right in a sense. Despite the difference in sound and audience, Wolf releases theatrical songs with a wardrobe to match, constantly supporting empowerment and acceptance lyrically and through his public persona.  And Wolf was definitely around first.

This tour, termed Sunlight and Riverdark after his soon-to-be released album, features the acoustic re-rendering of songs from his archive to celebrate ten years of being a recording artist.  This brought him to the beautiful and cozy Music Gallery to greet a couple hundred excited fans.  Ever since releasing his first album at 19 (the sinisterly-bent, folktronica-filled Lycanthropy), Wolf has built up a cult following through ten years and five additional albums.

I had an intensely personal perspective on the show.  For many of my formative years, I identified myself as a member of his “wolf pack”.  I discovered Wolf’s music at 14, and immediately latched on to his “I don’t care what you think of me, I’ll march to my own beat anyway” attitude, as well as his thoughtful combinations of unusual instruments with occasional electronic elements.  To illustrate how dedicated I was to this man’s music, I’m willing to admit that at one point I had a collection of framed photos of Wolf with his then flame-red hair on my bedroom wall.  We’re talking major fan loyalty.

Like any pre-teen musical obsession, I have grown both up with and away from Wolf’s songs over the years, but unlike any other artist I listened to in the time period, I still have a constant dialogue with Wolf’s music.  He is the creator of some of my favourite songs lyrically (“So when the birds fly south, I’ll reach up and hold their tails” from “Teignmouth” still has a special place in my heart), and to some extent I still identify with him as an independent and earnest outsider.  North American tour-stops are rare for Wolf, so I finally got a chance to see him in a live setting after six years of patronage.

The acoustic framework of his show worked beautifully. The instrumentation was full of piano, baritone uke, harp, oboe, violin and musical saw.  Hearing old songs in new ways worked well – “Vulture” was stripped of its dance beats and re-imagined with menacing piano chords, the string hook of “Hard Times” was handed to the oboe, and musical saw added percussion to “Hazelwood”.  The playing of “Hazelwood” was a rare event; Wolf hadn’t played the Yeats-inspired song for years before this tour began.

Honesty is a mainstay of Wolf’s show – he began to play the happy, fulfilled “House”, before stopping to rest his head on his hands. “I’m not tired, I think I’m just tired of this song!…I don’t want to be fake for you.  This isn’t Canadian Idol.”  He went on instead to play the more mournful “Penzance”, a B-side from a single released in 2005.  This dedication to remembrance and rarity popped up throughout the show.

Towards the end, I experienced some dissonance – first was an enthusiastic rendition of “The Magic Position”.  I caught myself thinking how surreal it was, that six years ago I had listened to that song on repeat.  I could have easily been singing its chorus to Wolf himself: “Who is the one that leads me on through? It’s you!”  Wolf got me through a lot of the usual tribulations of early adolescence, and I felt a bit euphoric.  He paired it, though, with “Bermondsey Street”, a song from his 2011 album that is too simply direct and literally didactic lyrically to do anything for me.  This served as a reminder that Wolf is actually just a musician like any other – multi-faceted, talented and interesting, yes, but also quite capable of writing a song that does not agree with me.  After six years, I can see him in a new light; no more hero-worship, but with more appreciation of the content of his musicianship.

Wolf is a confident, accomplished, talented musician with a lot to say to the world – I certainly hope I can listen to him for another six years.

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