When Patrick Wolf came on stage for an acoustic set at Le Poisson Rouge* last night, looking one part Brian Slade, one part Twilight (seriously, was he wearing pancake makeup, or are the Brits really that pasty?), and one part naughty Bavarian schoolboy, it was hard to know what to expect from this musical wunderkind. In case you aren’t familiar with M. Wolf, he’s been performing professionally since his late teens, making him a veteran of the indie circuit at the ripe old age of 25. His visual style is right out of glam, and there are more than hints of Morrissey-esque longing in his angst-ridden ballads. But given that Wolf has mastered the piano, violin, viola, guitar, ukulele and dulcimer as well as being an accomplished singer, it’s guaranteed that his music is never derivative.
Chattering amiably throughout the sold-out show, Wolf almost literally charmed the pants off the audience fretting about his costume (“Have I got camel toe? Is that okay?”) and acknowlegding his aunt and cousin seated at the front of the stage, all while flirting shamelessly with the crowd. He talked of his fantasy of Bleecker street being rife with little piano bars, and clearly relished the chance to perform a less formal, staged show, taking requests throughout the hour and change (as he lacked a set list). Floating back between old and new songs–one highlight being a love song influenced by Appalachian poetry–Wolf showed himself to be aware of his own penchant for melodrama (gesturing grandly during the relative breakout hit “The Magic Position”), but also opened himself up to the audience in a way that took him away from the glam aesthetic. In discussing time spent traveling to Ireland to research his family tree, trolling YouTube for dulcimer videos, falling apart and falling in love, it was as if Wolf was offering his fans an explanation for his long hiatus (in 2007 he threatened to quit the musical world altogether). After this chance to see such a genuinely talented artist minus most of the bells and whistles, it’s clearly a blessing that the man is back in full force.
Look for Patrick Wolf’s new album, The Bachelor, on June 2, which features a guest spot from actress/androgynous/polyamorous woman of mystery Tilda Swinton.
*This is just to note that after two shows Le Poisson Rouge is quickly becoming one of my favorite low-key venues in the city. Good sound, reasonable ticket prices, a great line-up of talent from a variety of genres, and an intimate atmosphere that I thought was nearly dead and gone. Thankfully, I was wrong. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Patrick Wolf, “The Magic Position:”