I can’t be the only person who was surprised to hear that Wolf Parade had announced another gig in Vicar Street. At the time, the now-leaked third album Expo ’86 wasn’t even a twinkle in Sordo’s eye. You don’t test new material at Vicar Street. Vicar Street, by virtue of its capacity, will give you a crowd who are doe-eyed and forgiving, but ultimately there for the hits.
I wasn’t even going to go, which, if it’s not a sign of the times, is at least an indication of the extent to which they have been pushed to the margins since acquitting themselves splendidly on the tour for the not-as-good At Mount Zoomer in 2008. Apologies To The Queen Mary is still a monument and a great album, but Mount Zoomer requires patience and a sieve, and all indications were that the new material was going to be outlandishly proggy in a testicular 70s prog kind of way rather than Sunset Rubdown’s meticulousness (Spencer), or just bad (Dan).
But hey, circumstances conspired.
Contrary to precedent, Dan was looking healthy and energetic. In keeping with the trend, but maybe to a greater extent than anyone could have been expected to anticipate, Spencer was hammered. They played a lot of the new record, and a mix of the older two, and were apologetic, which is a strange dynamic to have when your band has become more meaty than any of the original post-Arcade Fire curious listeners would probably have put up with at the time.
Some of the new ones were good. Spencer’s had elementally heavy bass, executed on his keyboard. Dan had one good one, and one that was probably the worst thing in Wolf Parade’s canon to date.
As for old songs, it’s impossible to fault I’ll Believe In Anything, because it’s one of the greatest things ever constructed. But Shine A Light, as part of the encore, was disappointing on a couple of unsettling counts. 1. Dan Boeckner messed up the words in front of a room in which probably 50% of people could have given them to him with exact cadence. 2. Spencer was just-take-him-home-to-bed drunk, or stoned, or something, and while he was playing a keyboard part in the right key, it wasn’t actually the keyboard part from Shine A Light. Which was confusing.
The last song of the encore, Kissing The Beehive, outstripped any of the new prog and brought the gig to a pretty impressive climax, but there were a lot of questions.
It was an enjoyable gig. It was Wolf Parade, for one. But their Album 1-Album 2-Album 3 trajectory is looking worryingly like the Strokes’, and it’s been clear for a while that Spencer’s best stuff is going elsewhere. And there is a definite point when you become Too Drunk to perform to that many paying attendees. It’s a point at which you have to ask exactly why Wolf Parade exists when it’s clearly creatively a side project for 50% of members. Expo ’86 will get to speak for itself in response to that, but early signs aren’t all that great.