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GIG REVIEW: Patrick Wolf @ Oran Mor, 23/3/11

(c) Claire Quigley 2011

What do you call a life constantly prey to only raptures or dissolutions?

Flanked by darkeyed redheads (violinist Victoria Sutherland, and windist Emily Fronten), our princeling comes on toting a choking croon, somewhere between Jarvis and Rufus. All in black but his hair, the colour, colour, colour of the man shoots out in all hues at all genders from track 1.

He picks up a ukelele!


He sits to a halfharp!


He said a thing!


He took off his scarf very fast!


Song's over!


The song isn't quite over, but the band did quite well transitioning to that bit!


This damp-thigh devotion doesn't fit in with his old stuff (the tortured bedroom productions), and since half the set is still chambered sulky ballads, one wonders what he makes of us.

But his most part is now delirious melodramatic pop, which songs include room for hysteric responses. Patrick Wolf is playing pop nihilist dressup; he's a hyperactive Wainwright, sparkling with brutality. Photos can't do him justice, since it's his sheer motion that persuades (and keeps the crowd screaming all bloody set). The man is a sexy fidget, and has more than a notion that this is the case. In fact, he's extremely self aware - he moves through poses as if flipping mental pages in a Vogue, knowing exactly how he looks. You can still see the teen he was, even with him come this far: discomfort with oneself is practically what "indie" means. The confines of this basement make him clumsy - or, no, he is clumsy: he pulls out his amp, hits the ceiling with a misjudged hop, wings Sutherland as he flies past. There was always a distancing alien poise to Bowie, and Wolf is very different: very much an affectionate, swooning, flitful sexpot.

People who see him move first call him Pan, Puck, Perry Como on PCP. A queer hearthrob.

People who look at his instrumentography first call him "versatile" or "experimental", but they do so wrongly: his songs are homogenous - either stomping neoclassical disco or moaning café-Gothic. (Lovewolf or Sulkwolf.) The man's real experiment is his hips, shoulders and neck, not his music.

And they're replicated experiments - he's got a catalogue to flow through, drug-fast: Sally Bowles' chair, thumb in his belt, sleeves flapping, Man-In-Black baritone ukelele(!), pirouette, unironic Rat Pack arm-sweep, Billy Idol prance, shedding his coat, ripping his buttons, scrunching his hair; stare to stage lights; sing over own viola, hop through the hyperventilating crowd. Where anyone else might pause to towel themselves, he starts the song and does a boa-routine with it instead. The man can do jazzhands with his face.

Anyone who fails to catch an erotic sparkle off him ought give up this "body" lark. But note it's an unthreatening allure - preposterous just the same as it is potent - charming but not dangerous.

At one point he says, of an unpracticed b-side, "I want to dedicate this song to a woman, a special creature, in the audience tonight..." Half the room's eyes widen with leavening hope-


The rub: Patrick Wolf is a crooner. (I don't mean to be pejorative about it.) There is a form uniting Ratpacker, lounge lizard, torch singer, MOR/AOR, autotuned Def Jam whiner, half-folk moron, bland retro-jazzer and other sentimentalists: just that voice producing that reaction. Try this on, a genealogy of sentiment:

Can you see how they play the same role with quite different work?


There's few breaks between songs, and when he tries to speak we see why: it's as if a light has gone off. A cute, polite, haunted boy who can only blurt "thanks" and "c'mon Glasgow" repeatedly stands there, unsure. This twit does not live in the same place as the stomping, theatrical, conceited nymph/satyr performing just a second ago. (This tells us the reach of selfinvention, but also its limits.)

The final encore, "Magic Position" is his best: it could be a lost HDH gem, so full it is of directional joy, warm breaks, and handclap soul. His second last move of the night is singing with two microphones angled up, shafts gripped outrageously. His last move of the night is an Adam Ant cross-tableaux, delivered with a wink. Well, he knows what he is.


Time of Your Life
The Towans
The Bachelor
Godrevy Point
The Bluebell
Ghost Song
Hard Times (Extended Bemused Band Mix)
The City
Magic Position