Thursday, 9 December 2010

Patrick Wolf @ Bloomsbury Ballroom

A stranger bunch of people you've never seen – green ink writers the lot of them. There are middle-aged women practically wetting their Tena Ladies with excitement, several people of indeterminate sex, a girl with sparkly silver pipe cleaners for eyebrows and two guys who look like they've just rolled up from the best acid rave you've never been invited to. Next to them stands a smartly dressed man in his sixties while behind him two dudes with glittery black trousers stand chatting to a woman who manages to have red, purple and electric blue hair all at the same time. And she's wearing a clock.

Roll up, roll up for the Patrick Wolf circus. The venue is pretty odd as well. Bloomsbury Ballroom evokes images of Regency glamour, maybe of Virginia Woolf and E.M Forster hosting scandalous parties. The reality is a little more tired: it's peeling a bit around the edges, the carpets in the bar need a going over with a hoover, and the music over the PA is a 'best of' garage and funky house mix tape. Yuck.

Thankfully Wolf lends an air of extravagance to the occasion, as we are ushered into the ballroom proper to be greeted by his band – a mix of the orchestral and the electronic – and the glamorous singer dressed in a red suit, accessorising with a jaunty red corsage. Maybe it's one too many shandies but the velvet curtains suddenly look hopelessly romantic and glamorous. Once the lights are lowered, you can almost convince yourself that you're on the set of Strictly Come Dancing and while nobody is going to be attempting a rumba tonight, the gig has an instant celebratory atmosphere.

After all, a lot has changed in Wolf's life since his last release 'The Bachelor'. He's now in a long-term relationship, has seemingly finished battling depression, and seems to be a thoroughly happy chappy. The difference in sound is evident. Songs from his forthcoming album (due for release in Summer 2011) are chirpy affairs, with lyrics about survival, hope, and keeping the flame alive. He has described them as “music for your first kiss” and “not cheese but happy, pornographic music”.

He's not entirely right. They are a little bit cheesy. But they're also extremely loveable. He's the kind of guy you want to do well, even when he extends a clenched fist into the audience and closes his eyes while singing, suddenly becoming a bit Michael Bolton (to squeals of delight from the crowd). When he warbles about finding “the greatest peace you'll ever know” with his rich caramel voice, and intones that he “won't back down any more”, your heart skips a beat and your brain gets that same mushy feeling you get when you sniff a baby's head. Or maybe that's just me.

Newbie 'The City' – featuring the refrain “I won't let the city destroy our love” – is an ABC-aping anthem about keeping a relationship going during the credit crunch and perhaps best sums up the electronic troubadour's new direction. It's markedly different from 'The Libertine', a protest song featuring lyrics like “The hitch-hiker was bound and gagged, raped on the roadside”. 'The City' is also sort of a protest song, but it's a protest that's nowhere near as angry or bitter: basically it admits that there's nothing that's that worth getting too worked up about if you have someone to snuggle with on the sofa. “I'm sorry, but I just love this song. I could play it for hours,” says Wolf as he goes in for another chorus and the 'Lexicon of Love'-style sax solo wails up again.

Nobody's stopping him. Frankly, he's given us all something to smile about. Even me, bitter, alone and Bridget Jones-esque as I am, find myself smiling at strangers on the tube on the way home. Sadly, they edge away and bury their heads in the Standard.

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