Wolf People supported by Diagonal at The Garage, Highbury.Tuesday 17th of January
The prog-rock spectrum is long and extreme. At one end sits the jazz-inflected strand, often harsh and atonal and as inviting as a concrete housing block in Soviet-era Poland. At the other rests the warm, psych-folk style, best suited for free festivals on The Isle Of Wight and doing mushrooms in Middle Earth.
Diagonal are squarely at the first end, coming on like Red-era King Crimson covering Derek Smalls’ 'Jazz Odyssey', fronted by a shaved-headed saxophonist who looks like he’s wandered in from an Oasis gig. Everything is played in complex time signatures, and the set moves between slow fast loud quiet passages with impressive technical finesse. It’s striking and cacophonous and perfect for stroking your wizard’s beard to, but very hard to love. They could also do with wearing more capes.
Wolf People meanwhile exist at that other fuzzy end of prog, and they are the GREATEST BAND IN ENGLAND TODAY*. Beneath their unassuming Open University looks, these four have the hearts of Dionysian behemoths and they let rip like the superstars they would be if we all took acid with our tea. ‘Silbury Sands’, the opening track from recent album Steeple, is dispatched only two songs into the gig, but it shows off everything that is immense about the band; this is a quintessentially English noise, half pastoral beauty and half rabble-rousing stomp, drawing a line from Fairport Convention through to Traffic and on up to Led Zeppelin and even Black Sabbath. Front man Jack Sharp’s vocals, sometimes fragile on disc, ring out live with unexpected clarity and strength, and if you removed the tight CS&N harmonies or took away the amps, you’d still be left with song writing that would make Martin Carthy or Roy Harper proud.
Which isn’t to say that this is simply bucolic pastiche. Wolf People are former hip-hop kids who have swapped their decks and linoleum for guitars and madrigals, and they still know how to bring the noise - especially when they introduce their mad afro-ed flautist for the encore. Under his freaky guidance, single ‘Tiny Circles’ comes off like Focus with the funk or Jethro Tull with B-Boy attitude.
This is not music for a miserable January night on the Holloway Road; Wolf People deserve to be seen in a clearing in The Forest Of Arden, or at the very least watched in split-screen Panavision with a quadraphonic soundtrack. It may be freezing outside, but when Wolf People play, it’s the summer of Pan in our souls. With added breakbeats for luck.
* who sound like they should be headlining the second night of Glastonbury circa 1971.