“I feel sorry for you”: words texted to a friend by a smug teenager, stood 12 inches away from the four members of Wild Beasts. In Gateshead’s Old Town Hall, a suitably theatrical setting for the Beasts' dramatic songs, the plush red curtains heighten the sense of occasion. For many, this will be the first opportunity to hear the Kendal via Leeds' band's third album, Smother. But the expectant atmosphere is momentarily tainted, as the house lights inappropriately blink on and off during the first two songs, ‘Plaything’ and ‘Loop the Loop’, filling the room with harsh neon light and then no light at all. “All the best things happen in the dark though”, says Hayden, winking, and the band carries on, undeterred.
It’s this taste for the debauched that has got broadsheet newspapers citing Wild Beasts as sex-obsessed romantics. The label isn’t misplaced. Eroticised lyrics on ‘Invisible’ and ‘Deeper’ set pulses racing, while the drums… well, the drums practically reek of copulation. The Vaudeville-camp of polarising debut album Limbo, Panto and Mercury Prize-nominated Two Dancers has been toned down to a more restrained lusting, with an ethereal quality to the new songs. Everything points to a band assuredly developing their sound, conscious that to remain static is to become boring, yet careful to keep the parts that made them so distinctive in the first place. They thank us for allowing them to “indulge” in playing the new songs. But really we’re the ones being spoilt.
The band as a whole seems to be performing older songs with a greater sense of confidence. This could be because the likes of ‘This Is Our Lot’, ‘The Devil’s Crayon’, and ‘All The Kings Men’ now no longer have the shackles of being the main fixture of the sets weighing them down. Free to be interspersed alongside the delicate sounds of Smother, the bouncing bass lines and thrilling vocal outbursts of these songs become even more pronounced, and all the better for it. As the band leave the stage, you wouldn’t bet against a few more texts being sent across Newcastle, similar in sentiment to the one written by the teenager at the front of the stage earlier in the night.