Live Review: Wolf Gang at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 22nd May 2014

By on Tuesday, 27th May 2014 at 2:00 pm

There have been plenty of times I’ve said my hometown of Washington, DC has been slighted by bands when they’re choosing tour itineraries, plenty of moments where we here in this city have felt like the stepchildren of the fan world. Max McElligott and his band Wolf Gang are currently on tour in North America as support to current world beaters Bastille but as Dan Smith’s band weren’t scheduled to stop in our town, McElligott made the conscious decision to gift Washington with a headline show Thursday night, we were definitely feeling like the favourite children in the family to get a special gig all to our own.

Straight out the gate, we knew we were in for something special. The ‘Black River’ EP, which was released at the end of April, came out of what seemed to me left field; while it had been quite some time since the release of McElligott’s debut album ‘Suego Faults’, which came out in July 2011, it seems like most of my favourite bands like to take their time on their successive releases, so I didn’t think anything was amiss. Having signed a deal last year with Interscope’s division Cherrytree Records, the American home of Keane, Wolf Gang now find themselves in the enviable position of being able to tour and promote their band in America with a prominent label behind them. Indeed, McElligott told the DC audience that a new album was on its way and they would be back in due course to promote said album. I’m not sure what songs the band has been playing while opening for Bastille, but I am sure we got a far longer set list in Washington and therefore a far better preview of what is to come, in addition to already released tracks that Wolf Gang fans have already keep close to their hearts.

A nice surprise to begin the evening’s set was not a ‘safe’ choice of a song known to all like a single cut off ‘Suego Faults’ but instead newest EP title track ‘Black River’. I think it says a lot about the collective confidence of a musical group to come out swinging with a relatively new song that some of the audience might not have taken to yet. It could have started the show with a whimper but instead delivered and elicited such an energy from the crowd that the start set the tone (and the bar) for the rest of the set.

A dynamic song with an infectious, bounding rhythm, you can’t help but compare the uplifting, huge-sounding chorus of ‘Black River’ to those from another band Wolf Gang toured stateside with not all that long ago, Coldplay. Seeing that Coldplay’s songwriting has fallen on hard times (if you need evidence, read Martin’s review of ‘Ghost Stories’ and band retrospective), it falls to acts like McElligott’s to bring catchy, not to mention happy pop to the masses once again. (Happy sounding, anyway – if you read the lyrics to the song, it’s pretty dark. But that is an issue for my side project Music in Notes, not TGTF.)

Wolf Gang’s nearly 1-hour set included a nice selection of tracks from ‘Suego Faults’, from the swoony ballads that I was sure the girls next to me were going to faint from, hanging on McElligott’s every uttered note (‘Midnight Dancers’, ‘Suego Faults’) to the cool minimalism of ‘Back to Back’, from the shimmering notes of ‘Something Unusual’ to the sweeping grandeur of set closer ‘Lions in Cages’. The song choices from their upcoming album showed off the more melodic, possibly less dance side of the band. McElligott played a mandolin on ‘Alveron’, the title track from the new album, while on ‘Ghost in My Life’, he traded an electric guitar for an acoustic and provided a gorgeously tender moment in the night. A signal that Wolf Gang is turning more introspective? Might be an interesting development.

However, it was crowd pleasing single ‘The King and All of His Men’ in all of its New Wave glory that proved to be the hit of the night, with punters bouncing with the uber-memorable chorus. When I was stood in the queue to say thank you and goodnight to the band on my way out, there was a youngster and his parents in front of me, and his dad explained that Coldplay at the Verizon Center 2 years ago, with Wolf Gang as support, was his son’s first rock concert and his son was so nervous to meet Max. But as I knew as soon as they stepped up to say hello to the band, the nerves would melt away as soon as he knew just how nice and personable everyone in the band was in person. As I snapped a group photo with the band for them, I thought to myself, why aren’t Wolf Gang bigger? I hope that with this new album ‘Alveron’ and Cherrytree supporting their every move, the success they deserve will be theirs.

After the cut: Wolf Gang’s set list.

Wolf Gang’s Set List:
Black River
Stay and Defend
Something Unusual
Ghost in My Life (new song)
Suego Faults
Back to Back
Lay Your Love Down (new song)
Last Bayou
Midnight Dancers
Now I Can Feel It (new song)
The King and All of His Men
Alveron (new song)
Lions in Cages

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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