This February, the Backdoors music festival made its debut in Mumbai at Jio Garden in what should easily have been one of the year's cultural highlights. The Humming Tree launched the biannual festival in 2016 in Bangalore, with prog rock king Steven Wilson featuring as the event's headliner.
This time around, the organisers appreciably expanded Backdoors both artistically and geographically. By bringing in international acts like Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Wolf Alice and noted Indian artists like Prateek Kuhad and When Chai Met Toast, they showed their ambition to make the festival a mainstay. But sadly, poor scheduling (on a Wednesday) and an early start (3 pm) resulted in underwhelming attendance numbers and plenty of disappointed concert-goers.
In the middle of Bandra-Kurla Complex's concrete jungle, the green oasis that is Jio Garden offered refuge to not more than a few thousand. Fans in their early 20s (and upwards) and a handful of teenagers — who surely had to scrounge together their allowance money to attend the event — made up the largely youthful demographic at Backdoors.
And they all erupted with elation when the British indie outfit Wolf Alice took the stage. The band gave an exhilarating performance of their stunning sophomore effort, Visions of a Life, a stunning collection of sounds that combined punk rock bravado with ambient pop reverie.
The hour-long set was also loaded with festival-pleasing fan favourites from their earlier EPs and first album. Lead guitarist Joff Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey put on a cohesive, fluid performance and provided the perfect canvas for frontwoman Ellie Rowsell to showcase her fearless and evocative vocals.
The London quartet kicked off their set with ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’, from their 2014 EP Creature Songs, eliciting mosh-inducing excitement from fans right away. Following it up with another crowdpleaser, their grunge revivalist debut single 'Fluffy', Rowsell reminded the audience of their sonic origins, singing about small town alienation and frustration. She further held their attention with her alluring vocals and stop-start verses in 'Your Loves Whore.'
Digging into their new record, Wolf Alice displayed their shoegaze brilliance with 'Heavenward' before Rowsell delivered in angry bursts the turmoil of being a riot girl in 'Yuk Foo.' Throughout the various track on the concert set list, she showed off her vocal versatility, seamlessly shifting between Elizabeth Frazer-like ethereal vocals to Siouxsie Sioux-like pseudo-melodic screams amid her shredding arpeggios.
Wolf Alice have made a name for themselves by fusing different styles and jumping around the musical spectrum. And they deliver a performance that exhibits their transmutational ways in all its glory. After the groovy Heathers-inspired 'Beautifully Unconventional,' the band slowed down the pace with a stripped-down version of 'Don't Delete the Kisses,' with Rowsell sing-speaking her lovesick meanderings in dulcet tones. There is something inherently enjoyable and cathartic about singing along to a song with hundreds of others. It engenders a liberating sense of togetherness within the audience - no matter how small they may be.
The crowd were clearly pleased to see more songs from My Love is Cool, such as 'You're a Germ,' 'Bros' and 'Silk' thrown into the set list along with recent tracks like 'Space & Time' and 'Formidable Cool.' With 'Giant Peach', the band close their short set and effortlessly land the crowd back on Earth. The unique potpourri of genres and wistful harmonies of Wolf Alice's catalogue translated particularly well to the live stage, thanks to a cohesive stage presence and an energetic performance from the quartet.
With the dynamic Rowsell as front-woman, Wolf Alice proved at Backdoors why they're considered one of the finest indie-rock bands in the world. And Visions of a Life is merely a set-up for even greater moments yet to come.
While Backdoors is a music festival that is still trying to find its identity, attendees will surely turn up in hives if more artists in the ilk of Wolf Alice are brought to India in future editions — but ideally if held during the weekends.
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Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 15:20:30 IST