Following up on our own recommendations
The stage at The Independent, bathed luxuriously in deep blue, purple and turquoise light, was an anemone of craning microphones – nearly twice as many as there are members of Wild Beasts, the band that the crowd awaited.
The North England four-piece involves two primary vocals, Hayden Thorpe’s rich falsetto and Tom Fleming’s operatic baritone, but produces only one voice. Thorpe and Fleming weave their contributions so seamlessly, the live experience of seeing two physically separated sources was slightly uncanny.
The scene was easiest to process when the two frontmen took to a keyboard and synthesizer that faced one another, singing into a single-stemmed, two-headed microphone.
The mood-lit atmosphere was perfect for the British fauves, who offer perhaps the most utterly and successfully erotic songwriting in indie rock today. As soon as Wild Beasts’ performance began, The Independent became irrevocably a bedroom; the band – a gushing fount of aggression and tenderness, greedy hedonism and sensual pillow talk.
“Now I’m going to say some terrible things to you,” Fleming warned before launching into a jaunty, crisply percussive rendition of “All the King’s Men.”
And we are the boys/ who’ll drape you in jewels/ cut off your hair/ and throw out your shoes/ cause baby, you won’t need them, where you’ll be
girls astride me/ girls beneath me/ girls before me/ girls between me/ you’re birthing machines/ and let me show my darling what that means
The mercury rose a few degrees during that one.
Singing about sex is not easy. It requires fearlessness and frankness, but not necessarily directness, lest it become tawdry. Wild Beasts’ elegant lyricism is always more evocative than it is descriptive, and is all the more blush-inducing for it.
“Oh, what am I supposed to think?/ Do I pull you out?/ or do I let you sink?” coos Thorpe on “Lion’s Share,” the stirring opening track to last year’s fantastic and underrated Smother. “I wait until you’re woozy/ I lay low until you’re lame/ I take you in the mouth/ like a lion takes his game,” and so forth.
For all their lyrical boldness, Wild Beasts come off as an uncommonly humble sort of indie rockers. “We know you’ve had to put up with a lot of English bands this week,” said Fleming, referring to the interim between two Coachella weekends that have drawn dozens of major bands to the West Coast, “and we’re sincerely touched by your coming out to see us.”
The pleasure was just as much San Francisco’s. Wild Beasts can command a festival stage with their lush and pulsing melodies – they proved this marvelously at last year’s Treasure Island. On Thursday night, they showed what they can do in an intimate space. The effect will not be easy to shake off, and that is no cause for complaint.