Thursday, September 27th, 2012
Patrick Wolf and Woodpigeon at The Music Gallery in Toronto
Frank YangI think there’s two ways to look at the frequency with which Patrick Wolf tours North America. One one hand, you could say he’s not here nearly enough considering how much time he spends on the road and how devoted his fanbase is – his last visit was over three years ago, in support of The Bachelor. On the other, we’re probably lucky that he comes through as much as he does, considering how… fluid his label (and tour support) situation tends to be from record to record – his last album, 2011’s rather excellent Lupercalia didn’t even get a physical release on this continent – it’s probably a testament to his determination to service that devoted fanbase that he not only keeps performing, but that he keeps making such a memorable show of it.
His visit this past Tuesday night at The Music Gallery wasn’t belatedly for Lupercalia – domestic release or no, you can be sure his fans had copies of it and its Brumalia companion EP – but was instead part of the celebrations marking Wolf’s tenth anniversary as a recording artist. The celebrations also included the release of a new album of old songs, reimagined in orchestral/acoustic fashion as Sundark & Riverlight – it wouldn’t be physically released until October 16, but was already out digitally by the time Wolf took the stage. And in a way, it was almost better if the fans hadn’t heard the new versions beforehand – hearing familiar songs in a completely new way could be a thrilling experience, particularly in such an intimate setting, but it’s easy for me to say that as I’d already heard the new record and knew that the new versions were brilliant.
The tour also came with some Can-con in the form of supporting act Woodpigeon. Band principal Mark Hamilton recently relocated from his former homebase of Calgary to Austria both for love and a change of scenery, and like they say – you have to leave to come back; Woodpigeon moved to Europe only to land the biggest North American tour of his career. I’ve seen Woodpigeon live in a wide range of configurations, from folk vocal group to plugged-in rock band, but this time it was just Hamilton solo and acoustic, save for some looping equipment for his choral vocal effects and layered guitar parts. I’ve always thought that Woodpigeon needed to be some variant of band to sound their best – some of the arrangements on record were too pretty to be stripped down – but while there were points that I thought some sort of accompaniest might have been nice, he was doing pretty well on his own.
Knowing the rate at which he writes and records, I expect there are at least a couple new Woodpigeon albums in the release queue but the set stuck mostly to already-released material and it having been a while since I last heard them live – February 2010, to be precise – I’d forgotten how great those songs were. The laid-back atmosphere perfectly suited Hamilton’s gentle deliver, allowing him to be casual and conversational with the audience and preface most songs with quick, charming anecdotes. It’s a shame that Woodpigeon has migrated across the Atlantic, but if that translates into better opportunities (like this one) and perhaps more appreciation from his home and native land, perhaps the expatriate life is the right one.
Patrick Wolf had advertised this as an acoustic tour, but anyone expecting it to be an acoustic guitar strum through the songbook clearly doesn’t know Patrick Wolf very well. The area in front of the stage was filled with musical curiosities, from zithers, tenor guitars, and several violins and violas, musical saw, and oboe, through to a harp and grand piano. This wasn’t going to be no coffee house. Backed by one, and sometimes two, additional players, Wolf moved amongst all the instruments – and sometimes just sang – with the variety in tools and textures kept things sounding as rich and interesting as if he’d been touring with a full band; the amount of work that had gone into reinventing the song selections from all points of his eclectic career was very evident. The new arrangements also put the spotlight on what a stunning instrument Wolf’s voice was – its range and expressiveness has never been in question, but given the sonic density of some of his more recent albums, the fact that it’s such a massively powerful force on its own has been easy to overlook; no longer.
You couldn’t get further in vibe from this show to the 2009 appearance at the Mod Club. That performance showcased Wolf at most mercurial, for both good and bad, but this time he was happy and comfortable and just having a good time – at one point, he commented that he could see the CN Tower in all its LED-lit glory through the window, but much preferred the view inside the church. And why not? He’d filled the room with a couple hundred devout fans who, being more used to being able to act out and toss glitter around at his shows, had to try and restrain themselves in this setting and as a result just sat and trembled. It was pretty damn cute. And you knew they were die-hard because when Wolf stopped “House” midway through, saying that he wasn’t feeling it on account of being homeless while on tour – in its place, he took a request and swapped it for “Penzance”, a b-side from his very first single. Career-spanning, indeed.
After a closing run of “Pelicans”, “The Magic Position” – no prompting needed to get the audience clapping, and “Bermondsy Street”, it occurred to me that this would probably be the first Patrick Wolf show I’d see that didn’t end with Wolf nearly naked. And indeed, when he returned for the encore, he was still fully dressed but had traded his medieval-styled tunic outfit for a strange black cloak/headdress combination that made him look like some sort of executioner bishop. It was a fitting outfit for the genuinely creepy piano and hammered saw rendition of “Vulture”, but for “City” he swapped the crucifix around his neck for a pentagram headdress and when he couldn’t properly sing into the mic with it on, he wore it upside-down as a crown. And, not wanting things to end just yet, he attempted an a capella reading of “Jerusalem” but after forgetting the lyrics a verse in, ditched, bowed, and left. An abrupt but still charming end to an utterly lovely night.
Photos: Patrick Wolf, Woodpigeon @ The Music Gallery – September 25, 2012
MP3: Patrick Wolf – “Vulture”
MP3: Patrick Wolf – “A Boy Like Me”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “For Paolo”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “The Way To Happiness”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Winter Song”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “I Am Your Balladeer”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Empty Hall Sing-Along”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Knock Knock”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “A Moment’s Peace For Mary Christa O’Keefe”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Love In The Time Of Hopscotch”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Oberkampf”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Overture”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “The City”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Together”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “The Falcons”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Time Of My Life”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “House”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Damaris”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Hard Times”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Vulture”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Accident And Emergency”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “The Magic Position”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Bluebells”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “The Libertine”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Wind In The Wires”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “To The Lighthouse”
Video: Woodpigeon – “For Paolo”
Video: Woodpigeon – “Our Love Is As Tall As The Calgary Tower”
Video: Woodpigeon – “Spirehouse”
Video: Wooodpigeon – “Featherstone”
Video: Woodpigeon – “A Moment’s Peace for Mary Christa O’Keefe”
Video: Woodpigeon – “…A Given”
Video: Woodpigeon – “Home As A Romanticized Concept Where Everyone Loves You”
The Guardian, Clash, NOW, and The Atlanta Journal Constitution have features on Beth Orton, who is streaming her new album Sugaring Season at NPR ahead of its official release next Tuesday. She plays The Mod Club on Sunday, September 30.
Stream: Beth Orton / Sugaring Season
The Independent and NPR have features on Mumford & Sons, whose new album Babel is apparently set to sell a shit-tonne of records in its first week and top the charts. How about that. NPR also has a video session with the band.
Charli XCX has a new video.
Video: Charli XCX – “So Far Away”
In addition to a stream of what is supposedly the first official single from Wolf’s Law, Seattle radio station 107.7 The End also has a firm release date for The Joy Formidable’s second album – it’s out January 23 of next year, and they’re opening up for The Gaslight Anthem at The Sound Academy on November 25 of this year.