Wild Beasts + Alt-J @ Exeter Phoenix (14/03/12)

Culture Editor Mark Gibbs checks out Wild Beasts at Exeter Phoenix

live music Phoenix Wild Beasts

It is a great shame to think that the Exeter music scene rarely sparks even the smallest ounce of interest from bands looking to stretch their tour into the depths of the south-west, so when I saw that Wild Beasts were planning on gracing our small town with their presence, I immediately found myself searching for my debit-card.

The Phoenix is one of those strange venues where you never really feel like you’re at a gig. Queuing up inside an art gallery whilst muffled trad. jazz floats over the mostly middle-aged arty types certainly wasn’t the sort of thing you’d expect to find whilst descending into the Cavern. But then again, this wasn’t your typical scream-fest.

When tour support Alt-J took to the stage, their understated, almost shy stage presence found the audience looking on somewhat awkwardly as they made their way through a bass-heavy set of ultra-twee indie-folk. It’s difficult to steer away from such hyphenated descriptions as the band’s frequent use of castanets and xylophone atop throaty vocal melodies drenched in reverb really do defy genre in almost every way. By the end of the set, any awkwardness had been entirely alleviated through the bands captivating performance, even evoking the odd sway or sing-a-long from a few of the applauding crowd.

After only a short break, a drop in the lights and a throbbing, bassy synthesiser signalled the arrival of the evening’s headliners to the stage.

Immediately after striking their first note, Wild Beasts ignited the crowd into a hoard of nodding and swaying as their twinkling guitars fit perfectly alongside the twin vocals of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming.

Several instrument-swaps later, bass-heavy tracks led seamlessly into lighter, pianistic numbers supported by Skylarkin’s Katie Harkin on additional keyboards.

Having teased the audience in expectation of an encore, the band raised their game to a level none of the audience had been expecting. Through a stellar performance of 2009’s runaway single “All the King’s Men”, the show came to a climax as an instrumental mountain broke down into album closer “End Come Too Soon” – which is certainly how I felt whilst queuing up to collect my coat.