Live Shots: WU LYF at the Independent

Pub date November 23, 2011

I showed up pretty early to catch WU LYF at the Independent on Monday night. A cold breeze drifting through the venue and the giant white Wucifix standing on an empty stage made for a decidedly ominous vibe. It quickly warmed up, though, as a sold out crowd filled the place to capacity for the Manchester, UK, quartet’s very first performance in San Francisco.

I was feeling some serious deja vu. Less than two years ago another British four piece, Wild Beasts, had graced the same stage for its inaugural San Francisco show, which was also completely sold out. Pumped as I’d been for Wild Beasts, I was even more excited to watch these young hoodlums perform the intense, grandiose anthems of their breakthrough debut Go Tell Fire To The Mountain.

Exuberant cheers erupted from the audience as WU LYF gathered in front iof the illuminated Wucifix. Leader Ellery Roberts plucked out the first few organ chords of the slow-building opener “L Y F,” then turned his back to the crowd to show off his tattered denim jacket which also bared the mark of the band. Bassist Tom McClung was the most animated member on stage. He handled his instrument with an emphatic flair and provided the high-pitched vocal cries of “Wu” that added a chilling undercurrent to “L Y F” and other songs.

Most bands have a backbone, and WU LYF’s is Evans Kati. The set was driven by Kati’s wailing, melodic guitar. Joe Manning’s bursting percussion was pretty solid, though the drummer looked a bit bored. The raw, energetic “Spitting Blood,” and the fiery, impassioned “Concrete Gold,” were highlights of the evening.

Roberts’ snarling vocals were just as tortured and cathartic as on the record. Between songs, he spoke in mostly unintelligible grunts, which felt a little contrived. When I interviewed the singer a couple weeks ago, he was quite eloquent and soft spoken. It was an unfortunate bias, as the rest of the audience was completely enthralled by the primal character who stood before us.

Though I often had no idea what Roberts what saying, when he commanded us to howl like a desperate pack of wolves, we obeyed. Late in the set, he remarked that the audience was too calm. Roberts’ cheeky observation resulted in a wild, volatile reaction from fans when the band launched into a frenzied rendition of “We Bros.”

Since WU LYF is a relatively new group with a limited catalog of work, the show was without many surprises, save for a lovely instrumental piece led by McClung. Not surprisingly, the band closed with its cinematic Alma Mater, “Heavy Pop.” Though I half-heartedly joined the crowd in cheering for an encore, I knew it was no use. WU LYF had already given us everything they had.

Long Beach’s Crystal Antlers opened with a soulful, noisy ruckus. The quartet’s retro garage sound seemed a cross between the Black Keys and Cymbals Eat Guitars. In his flannel and heavy coat, vocalist-bassist Johnny Bell was a vision of grunge. His face remained hidden behind long, sweat-drenched hair. Though the band appeared to have stepped out of the ’90s, its sound was more reminiscent of ’60s psych rock. Crystal Antlers’ keyboardist flaunted some flashy moves that included tipping his synthesizer onto one leg while continuing to play impeccably.

All photos by Wolfgangg Photography..