Wild Beasts are unlikely pop stars. Their Mercury-nominated 2010 album, Two Dancers, was an unsettling meditation on male sexuality and British regional identity; this year’s Present Tense blended glacial synths and fever-dream lyrics (it is a cliché to say that a piece of art is influenced by David Lynch — in this case, it might actually be true).
For all the woozy dissonance, the Lake District quartet has basked in commercial and critical success. Playing their first proper Irish headline show in five years, they have come close to selling out the Olympia and even their unconventional tunes — of which they have plenty — are greeted as though they were the last word in crowd-pleasing anthemia. The boozy atmosphere is starkly at odds with their set and yet feels curiously appropriate, giving the music a new context.
After the acclaim heaped upon Two Dancers (narrowly edged out for the Mercury by The xx) and its 2012 follow-up, Smother, the band were in a quandary. Grounded in Hayden Thorpe’s star-crossed falsetto, Wild Beasts had struck upon a distinctive aesthetic, equally creepy and compelling. Nonetheless, they worried about repeating themselves, so, on Present Tense guitars were exchanged for electronic beats and straightforward arrangements (the lilting ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ wouldn’t sound out of place on daytime radio).
In concert, the new stuff soars. Opener ‘Mecca’ is both strange and extremely catchy, while ‘Sweet Spot’ suggests The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ overhauled by Cocteau Twins (that’s a recommendation). From ‘Two Dancers’, they disinter the sadly swaying ‘Funpowder Plot’ and ‘Hooting and Howling’, a roiling indie dirge that seems forever on the brink of a conventional verse-chorus structure.
Thorpe’s vocals shimmer the brightest — his eerie delivery illuminating the fugue of keyboards and riffs like cold sunlight cutting through a sea-mist. The result is a deeply enjoyable rock concert with glimmers of something darker.