With their second full-length album on the horizon, it was no surprise that Wolf Parade played a lot of new material during their Black Cat set. Problem is the performance didn't really leave any good clues as to how good the record will be. The set started off slow but finished strong, leaving one to wonder which half will end up on the new record.
Following Noot's beautiful psychedelic electronica, which had most of the early-comers scratching their heads but many others asking around to learn what they were hearing and writing down the name, Plants and Animals took the stage. Just a trio of guitar, guitar and drums on stage, Plants and Animals came out sounding far different from anything I expected after hearing one song on their MySpace page prior to this show. That was an intricately arranged track with lush instrumentation. Three people couldn't replicate that sound, but they did, at times, replicate the journey that track took. Again, psychedelic comes to mind. The trio came out blazing a power-pop garage trail, but instead of sticking to conventional song structure, this band's songs are divided, movement building upon movement. They are compositions rather than songs.
Midway through the set, that compositional approach finally aligned itself with the one song I had heard before. Like the songs they had already played, there was a sense of soulful pop-rock, but an added dimension of freak-folk and even classical music accentuated the songs, taking them beyond common comparison. Still, the trio could use the assistance of a dozen more musicians to realize the sound on stage, and a brief five song set -- no matter that most of the songs were stretched past traditional pop-rock song length -- wasn't enough to adequately greet new listeners.
Then again, short sets may have been part of the theme this night. Wolf Parade didn't spend much time on stage, either. Considering the lethargic start to the set, they would have benefited greatly by throwing a few more songs in toward the end, when they had hit their stride. The band opened with the nü wave of "It's a Curse," but they were too loose and sloppy to do justice to the studio version. It was a slower rendition, lacking the punch and pop that made their debut album so good. Loose and sloppy can be brilliant -- see Pavement -- but this band's recordings suggest precision. Also, this fan would have preferred to hear the guitar step to the fore in a live setting, rather than taking a backseat to the synths, and although the latter was the case, it wasn't a surprise. Co-frontman Spencer Krug is a keys man, after all. They then prepared the audience for what would be a set that was going to spend about half its time debuting the songs from the upcoming record. Everyone in the audience knows about the new record and is anticipating its release, so hearing the new material was welcome and expected. But the next few songs, mostly new, maintained that lazy pace of "It's a Curse" and seemingly failed to engage the audience. While each song closed to a hearty round of applause, there was a lot of chit-chat in the room, though the crowd seemed to pay more attention to "Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts," when Wolf Parade finally lived up to a familiar recording while mixing it up slightly, but not exceeding it. Still, it was a hint of better things to come.
By midset, Wolf Parade had found its true pace. Sandwiched between two new songs that rocked and were dance-floor friendly, "We Built Another World" reached the band's promise. "I'll Believe in Anything" seemed to lack the impact it is known for -- it is the best song from "Apologies to the Queen Mary," and most of the audience would agree -- but it was the band's best song of the set at that point. No song earned a bigger response from the audience. It started mellow and built up to the dance floor and then, briefly, to the headbanging, but Wolf Parade moved too quickly through the progression. Though I am not one who usually appreciates milking the cash cow, this heifer could have used it.
The closer of the first set was another new song, and it mimicked the show so far. Starting slow and lethargic, it was like the beginning of the set, and I was too critical at this point to give it a chance. But the big buildup common to many Wolf Parade tracks, as well as this set list, got the crowd moving again, and some searing -- though off-kilter -- guitar work made it rock, and the extended big finish foretold the encore to come.
When Wolf Parade took the stage again, they were done with the new, committed to the (two years) old. A full-steam rendition of "This Heart's on Fire" led the encore and stole the show with its energy and passion. Sounded like the band had spent everything on a one-song encore, but they kept going with the crowd pleasing "You Are a Runner and I am My Father's Son," played with a bit more bounce than the plodding album version -- finally. And they ran it straight into "Fancy Claps," not only turning up the volume and pace of that song, but also rendering it a big finish for "Father's Son" and the show as a whole.