I’m not a particularly big fan of Patrick Wolf’s most recent album, The Bachelor – I tend to think that The Magic Position brings together all the elements that were interesting in those which came before (Irish folk, soulful balladeering, enigmatic and somewhat literary lyrics, electronica, orchestral flourishes, and of course that amazing voice) with a skewed pop sensibility that brings his work into focus in such a way that the new album (apparently the darker, more down-key sibling of The Libertine, to be released next year) appears a retrograde step. But having missed the tour for The Magic Position, I wasn’t about to miss Mister Wolf in person. And boy, was that a good decision!
If Patrick Wolf is anything – and he’s a lot of things – he is a consummate performer. Deeply charismatic and theatrical, but also with a charming sense of naturalness and spontaneity, he’s one of those musicians who makes you feel (and wish) that despite the adoring crowd they’re performing only to you. The energy he brings to the presentation of his rather kooky, queered material is phenomenal. Like Morrissey (with whom he shares the similarity of inhabiting an interesting liminal position between Englishness and Irishness, and a fascination with that landscape) he clearly inspires obsessive devotion. And, on the spatial note, the landscape in which his work sits is an interesting one – somewhere between the artificial glitz, grime and sleaze of the post-industrial urban centre, and the bucolic landscapes of the rural village and the surrounding woods, comfortingly familiar yet vaguely melancholy, even sinister. This is apparent in the stage show, with a literal image of 'the wind in the wires’ playing backdrop to a performance which encompasses three changes of costume (including a black, white and grey union jack one-piece number, and a golden vulture costume).
Live, even the most recent work, less impressive on record, is vibrant and moving in turn. There is a mesmerising quality to the show, a welcome relief from familiar the ‘going through the motions’ presentations, or on the other hand entirely artificial theatrical spectaculars which rely on gimmicks and rehearsed moves. Standouts are 'The Libertine', 'Blackdown', and 'The Magic Position' (naturally). I was hanging out for 'Overture', but you can’t have everything… Ultimately, this is one of those performances that makes you want to plaster a singer’s posters all over your bedroom walls like a naïve teenager, while at the same time invoking the nostalgia that one feels for that period – the same combination of energy, dedication and lust with melancholy, mythology and half-forgotten mystery which Wolf’s music itself evokes.