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LIVE REPORT: Wild Beasts
Cay McDermott , February 28th, 2014 11:27

Following this week's release of Present Tense, Kendal's finest walk a line between the dirty thoughts of albums past and the new songs' grown-up romance at Wednesday's pre-tour gig at XOYO

Wild Beasts are everywhere. At least, it feels that way at the moment. The rapturous reception given to their most recent release, Present Tense, has spawned a raft of features, interviews and think pieces about the most popular Cumbrian export since Kendal mint cake. So it's no surprise that this performance - an intimate pre-tour taster of the new album - has been highly anticipated. A crammed XOYO seems the perfect venue, given the sense of carnality that pervades Wild Beasts' songs. Cramped, dark, reeking of incense and filled with girls flashing their knickers as they jostle for position on tops of benches and pillars, the place feels full of a mildly sweaty awkwardness.

It's a more mature – and stripped down sounding – four-piece who return tonight. While their songs are as full of dark thoughts and dirty deeds as they ever were, there's a sense that the untrammelled teenage passion of their earlier releases has evolved into a decidedly more grown-up lust. It's a shift that becomes apparent when they perform tracks from earlier in their career, such as the theatrical 'Devil's Crayon' (from their debut, Limbo, Panto). Whereas before, frontmen Thorpe and Fleming unfurled their startling call-and-response vocals like flags, tonight they seem tamer and more measured - less howling, growling and gnashing of teeth. It's a shift that they are aware of, albeit in an amusingly self-deprecating way. "People are starting to like Limbo, Panto again," Fleming tells the audience. "Maybe it's because they hate the new record." When an audience member heckles them to play another track off Limbo, Panto, it's refused with a wry "that's so 2008" before they gleefully launch into a rip-roaring rendition of 'Hooting And Howling'.

As is always the way, new songs are not greeted with the rapturous adulation afforded to older and better known tracks, but they have a deliciously cutting potency (even if some of the more tender moments are drowned out by a booming sub bass that makes the room rattle like an earthquake). Recent single 'Wanderlust', with its refrain of "don't confuse me with someone who gives a fuck," is as sharp as a blade, dripping with undisguised disgust. Keyboards squelch through 'Sweet Spot' as if in thrall to its lyrics, which speak of consummation "between bone dry and the dripping wet".

Wild Beasts' best songs have always been the ones that articulate ravenous male desire and it's these that really shine tonight. 'Bed Of Nails', with its narrator's imploring need for the object of its desire to sweep them up so they can lie entwined together in a "lanky limbed heap", manages to combine tender longing and electric alertness. But the highlight of the evening has to be punter favourite 'All The King's Men', the song in which a musical Don Juan (in the form of Tom Fleming adorned in a fisherman's hat and wife beater) sings the praises of the charms of "girls from Roedean, girls from Shipley, girls from Hounslow, girls from Whitby". It's played almost as a musical joke, one that the audience are in on, a sly nod to the theatricality of the encore ("Excuse the theatre, but here's some more".)

It's a short set – the whole affair is done and dusted in less than an hour – but it's a performance from a band incredibly aware of who they are and where they want to go. In a recent interview, Fleming, during the seemingly mandatory discussion of "influences", mentioned things as diverse as John Tavener, Deptford, 90s WWF wrestler Ric Flair and internet memes about dogs. Their new material features more electronic bells and whistles but you get the feeling that this is indicative of a band flourishing - filling out their shtick as they mature musically - rather than a bunch of guys messing around with studio kit as an attempt to make up for having no ideas. Perfect Tense will certainly please fans and, judging from this performance, Wild Beasts are still fully deserving of their reputation as one of the most original, potent, affecting live guitar bands in the UK.

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