Kurt Vile and Wolf People: Club Uncut, London The Lexington, December 15, 2009

Some surprise, really, that Wolf People, a new London band just signed to Jagjaguwar, have decided to stick with their name, given the seemingly innumerable number of Wolf-related bands currently around.

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Some surprise, really, that Wolf People, a new London band just signed to Jagjaguwar, have decided to stick with their name, given the seemingly innumerable number of Wolf-related bands currently around.

Will (sorry, in advance) Wolf People rise above the pack? It’s hard to say, as they open the latest Club Uncut. Essentially, they’re a young and fantastically proficient psych blues/folk kind of band, with a lot of pricey looking vintage kit. While they might naturally be aligned with the likes of Howlin Rain and so on, they’d probably fit more comfortably on a genuinely antique bill with Humble Pie or, in their less appealing moments, Ocean Colour Scene.

On record, a flute occasionally dominates and steers Wolf People’s sound towards Jethro Tull, too. But tonight, the flautist is absent, and the focus is on Jack Sharp’s lead guitar. He’s a very fine player, undoubtedly, and the rest of his band (especially the drummer) are good, too: the quartet sound like they’ve spent epic rehearsals getting their performances just-so.

Weirdly, though, it’s Wolf People’s skilfulness that currently undermines what they do, I think. They’re playing a kind of music that often benefits from a little friction, spontaneity and wildness, sometimes – in Howlin Rain’s case, again – from not-too suppressed past derangement in noise and hardcore bands. But whenever Wolf People let rip, it comes across as rather over-considered, even prissy. Let’s hope experience and confidence will free them up to jam in a more expressive and untethered way. Could be interesting…

Kurt Vile, meanwhile, is in a pretty interesting place already. I wrote about him at length in a piece about “Childish Prodigy”, but a few of those references don’t hold as much water when you see him play live. At times, he comes across a bit like Dylan, but in a strange, looping, faintly psychedelic garage way that isn’t exactly a typical way of filtering Dylan’s influence. Perhaps the Spacemen 3 t-shirts worn by Vile and his drummer are a clue.

Vile has a knack for making reverberant and loosely structured songs that are memorable in a slippery, non-obvious way. As on his last record, the show’s split between stunned garage chuggers like, most obviously, “Freak Train”, where the current Violators lineup (minus Adam Granduciel, reportedly working on the next War On Drugs record) track Vile’s fraught ambulations with live drums, recorded beats and droning sax. Sometimes there are a couple of guitars, sometimes a harmonica. Always a sense of curious, restless momentum, which even feeds into Vile’s solo pieces (like “Heart Attack”, say), where his deft folk fingerpicking comes to the fore.

As the long show goes on, these solo tunes (which Allan compared to Dino Valente, neatly) start to dominate, and it feels a little as if Vile, true to his lo-fi roots, might be sprawling out towards something self-indulgent and under-edited. Amazingly, though, he remains utterly compelling, and the off-the-cuff feel only adds to the general charm.

I guess his performance shows how a vague air of ramshackle haphazardness need not detract from either songwriting or musicianship, but can actually enliven both of them: a lesson that could be usefully learned by Wolf People – if it’s something that could be actually learned, of course. I’m not sure.


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