Wolf People / Diagonal, the Haunt, Brighton

For the unconverted, tonight’s show requires a leap of faith; an acceptance that classic, high church rock music still has something to say, stories to tell and an ability to generate an emotional response not based on nostalgia or a longing for eras past. That its codified ritual and romance, its melodic intricacies and primal rhythms are still relevant to our flat screen, hi-gloss, technologically mediated, post-everything 21st Century lives.

Diagonal have shed members and re-aligned their focus since their 2009 debut album, but they remain unashamed purveyors of early seventies-inspired prog rock, albeit shorn of its worst excesses- or perhaps they retain the excesses, the peaks, and lose the troughs between. Nick Whittaker’s saxophone may take lead in their mostly instrumental set, yet the key to the 5-piece Diagonal is their rhythm section, alternately thunderous and hypnotic like Tago Mago period Can, or tight and driving like Pink Floyd in full Formula One mode. Hard-edged yet complex, their final number even jumps the (increasingly arbitrary-seeming) 1977 watershed, evoking Television’s fractured guitar spirals before erupting into squalls of post-Pigbag punk-jazz noise.

Wolf People may also seem to have beamed in direct from 1972, but actually draw on a much older, timeless tradition, as tonight’s pounding re-invention of the courtly ballad ‘Banks of Sweet Dundee’ goes to show. But if the Edwardian revivalists largely remade British folk music as an emasculated embarrassment, then Wolf People give it back hips and a swinging cock, underpinning each electrified folk-rock arpeggio and high, yearning harmony with a driving riff and a hard funk groove. And though they can emulate Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin as well as anyone, these Bedford boys are far too nimble, clear-eyed and fleet-footed to descend into mere stoner-rock sludge.

Reclaiming the mixture of folk, blues and psychedelic experimentation that fed into the best 60s/70s rock doesn’t close Wolf Peoples’ minds to later developments either: the guitar duels on ‘Cotton Strands’ develop into a furious maelstrom that’s as much My Bloody Valentine as Jimi Hendrix, while ‘One by One from Dorney Reach’ betrays a youth spent listening as closely to the Stone Roses as Bert Jansch. But the new songs played tonight find them sounding increasingly like themselves, only more so: heavier riffs, more diaphanous melodies, dirtier beats, unmistakably Wolf People.

In going back to the earliest Brit-rock adventurers, like Peter Green and Jimmy Page, Wolf People have tapped into the essence of this high church rock music, and the secret of its enduring appeal. Its power is less to do with fashion, and more to do with being human; in thrall to grief and ecstasy, sexual longing and timeless mystery, power and beauty and the cross-rhythms of three guitars and a drum set trading ideas and phrases at close quarters. Wolf People do it well enough to make believers of us all.

 

 

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