The Wolfmother Changes Her Coat, But Not Her Ways

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Photo by Cassie Devaney

Even as pups, the relationship between the city of Vancouver and Wolfmother has been almost symbiotic in its mutual adoration. Not simply attributed to the Commonwealth or the Aussies love of Whistler, there is an unmistakable mystique surrounding the bond between the band and Vancouver.

Having had the pleasure of meeting and greeting Wolfmother a full decade ago at Richard’s on Richards (in its original form) – during their first foray through Vancouver – I can say with confidence that the “buzz” and overall fervour towards the psychedelic rock act seems almost as exaggerated and magnified now, as it was back then.

The band’s self-titled debut album exploded onto the North American scene a full 18 months after it debuted ‘Down Under”. The album saw its second release with only a slight variance from the original, having subtracted and added one song respectively, as well as shuffled the order of song delivery slightly.

It seems like Wolfmother is in itself, a traveling time capsule. (Not to be mistaken with H.G. Wells’ time travelling capsule) Drawing comparisons from everything from Black Sabbath to Led Zeppelin it would be easy to “pigeon hole” the trio in the late 60’s to mid 70’s categorization. If it were not for the relentless comparisons and often accusations of the band piggybacking Jack and Meg White’s work in The White Stripes, or being labelled a derivative of the early Queens of The Stone Age and therefore Kyuss material. However, being a fan of, as well as having had the privilege of witnessing every one of the bands above listed, the comparisons are understandable. Understandable, yet beyond fulfilling the human need for categorization, title, and systematic cerebral file organizing the extra focus Wolfmother garners needn’t be so prevalent.

There has not been a musician alive that has not drawn inspiration from the likes of another. Wolfmother is no more a rip-off of The White Stripes then The White Stripes are of The Gun Club, The Flat Duo Jets, or Led Zeppelin themselves. And with the passing of every year seeing a litany of new lawsuits hurled in the surviving Zeppelin member’s direction, its fair to say that any copyright infringement standards in rock n roll have long had the bar set at an almost unattainable height. With almost every commercial track in their catalogue comes a lesser known blues, roots, or rock n roll artist with a strong case supporting Zeppelins’ denial of relinquishing the lesser known artist of his or her’s (often best) work and repossessing it for the purposes of Page, Plant and company.

Without continuing the flogging of a deceased steed; serving to relinquish Wolfmother from the clutches of the very Gunnar Hansen-esq hook that so many have hastily crucified the band on is long overdue. If one takes Ozzy’s voice and laces it over Jack White’s guitar sound, with Josh Homme’s guitar part bridging Mark Lanegan’s melodies, and within all of that summoned Jimmy Page’s charisma; they are not only tremendous musical scholars, but have essentially created a new sound, albeit with old parts.

So how has a decade, four albums, endless inner and outer band drama, a full-on band break-up and a revolving door of men to accompany Andrew Stockdale’s artist pursuits faired the matriarch of the wolf?

To the point, it seemingly hasn’t affected them at all. They are as raucous and ridiculously extroverted during their stage performance as they ever were. Where Stockdale finds these drummers and bass players is a mystery worth uncovering. Whether he keeps a collection (of players) on an island somewhere, akin to Dr. Moreau; gene splicing musicianship with the Extremis Virus, or they come to him modeling very Danny Partridge like demeanours, and it is in the music that they abandon all likeness of former self and succumb to the beat? One thing is universally agreed upon, it’s as entertaining as any three-man band can be on a Wolfmother stage.

Pumping out a one hour-forty five minute set of marrow deteriorating/milk curdling psychedelic aural elixir – Wolfmother’s bass heavy, guitar driven, and pace thumping track after relentless track owned the Commodore Ballroom Friday night.

The frenetic sound and pace coupled with the ferocity and remarkably clear vocals of Andrew Stockdale unapologetically filled the capacity crowd with more testosterone induced bedlam than of a pack of twenty year old males stumbling across the key to untold vagina. Wolfmother has not lost an iota of live show appeal.

Granted many of their songs start the same way, and have a formula that is not very often ventured away from, Wolfmother still manages to distinguish each song from it’s almost similar counterpart. The overwhelming majority of the material unleashed on the adoring Commodore Ballroom crowd could have just as easily been a continuation of the show some 9 years back.

If one was hesitant to buy tickets (you missed out, it sold out quickly) due to only having a familiarity with “The Joker & The Thief”, “Woman”, or “Dimension”, it was a move miscalculated. Any unfamiliar material was comfortably assimilated through the filter that is Stockdale, Peres, and Carapetis, and quickly woven into the fabric of the Wolfmother audio nomenclature.

Objectively speaking however, if one were a detractor of the band, the very qualities of musically stamping the Wolfmother signature seal seen as commendable and appreciated by the masses Friday night could theoretically be used as supporting evidence towards an argument of the band’s lack of growth over the decade. Perhaps having self stunted their ascension due to the heavy turmoil and the ensuing band member turnover. Needless to say, if the later opinion was shared in Vancouver over the weekend we may have seen the expresser carried out of the venue in swift order. Knowing Vancouver’s adoration for Wolfmother and penchant for the dramatic, the individual brave enough to express a pessimistic outlook of the band may have been carried clear out of town.

A tremendously fun, and absolutely absurd in its aesthetics conclusion to a successful tour, it is baffling once immersed in the Vancouver/Wolfmother “pack” that the final date was indeed the only sold out performance of the “Victorious” tour. This is support of their latest offering by the same title. It is clear that beautiful Vancouver’s adoration of Wolfmother is reciprocal. Even after the house lights were well up, and music bled out of Commodore Ballroom’s monitors Wolfmother remained on stage throwing out picks and other miscellaneous debris.

On a personal note; Its been awhile since my hearing took quite took a wallop to the calibre of affecting my equilibrium. However, on Friday night/Saturday morning I realized that the show had done just that. Not quite at the Ministry or Big Sugar decibel range where one needs to weigh their love or desire to see the band against long term irreversible hearing loss. But enough of a chemistry manipulator to have one’s food taste like a sneaker and to greet the family dog with “hey honey” upon arriving home.