Sonically, Wolf Alice is both docile and feral. The London rock band took the stage at Union Stage on Monday night for the first of two shows in D.C. on the short U.S. leg of their “Blue Weekend” tour. This was a homecoming of sorts: They previously performed two nights at Union Stage while touring their Mercury-winning sophomore album “Visions of a Life” in 2017.
Lead singer and guitarist Ellie Rowsell purred through the jangly pop of “Bros,” growled through the bratty punk of “Play the Greatest Hits,” and roared in the 9-minute psychedelic rocker “Visions of a Life.” Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie originally began as a folksy duo and that’s still evident in the sweetness of the ballads and her angelic highs. The evolution to their current multi-generic guitar-driven rock, however, highlights the range of the full outfit.
In their three studio albums, the band has flirted with shoegaze, disco, emo, punk, grunge, progrock, and dream pop, confecting sweet ballads and ballsy rockers. For some bands, this shows a lack of identity – but with Wolf Alice, their fingerprint marks every chord, no matter the genre. During their 90-minute set at Union Stage, they took listeners on a world tour of their eclectic musical influences and their trio of albums.
The set was light on unnecessary banter. The band slammed through a set dominated by songs from “Blue Weekend,” which was released in June of this year. The album is arguably their best: mature and confident with some of their best lyrical phrasing. While there were loud cheers for “Bros,” “Formidable Cool,” and the Grammy-nominated “Moaning Lisa Smile,” the passionate fans already knew all the words to the newest songs, swaying to the sweeter love songs and creating a mosh pit during “Play the Greatest Hits.”
The claws came out on many stompers from Theo Ellis’ waterlogged bass in the set opener “Smile,” to Oddie’s blistering guitar and drummer Joel Amey’s floor-shaking beats on “You’re a Germ.” But then it’s all cuddles and purrs again on the heartfelt “The Last Man on Earth,” the bouncy “Safe from Heartbreak,” and the disco-inflected synthpop (courtesy of touring member Ryan Malcolm on keys) “How Can I Make it Okay?” After briefly leaving the stage, they returned for a solo encore of the anthemic “Don’t Delete the Kisses,” an anti-love love song.
Opening for Wolf Alice was the Southern Gothic trio Bria. Twangy, atmospheric, and moody, the band performed songs from their sub-pop album “Cuntry Covers, Vol.1.” The alt-country set was both soporific and irreverent, cheeky and subversive. Lead singer Bria Salmena’s raspy, whiskey voice breathed new life into classics from Lucinda Williams’s “Fruits of My Labor” to Marianne Faithfull’s decidedly NSFW outlaw ballad “Why D’Ya Do It?”
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