There’s something profoundly life-affirming about seeing Albi and the Wolves play live. It’s the joyful energy, their clearly obvious enjoyment of playing and the sense of hope that pervades their performances.
It’s as if the world may be a mess, but they’re out there to knock frowns into smiles – like it or not. And tonight that resolve is strong, as they promote their new album Light After Dark.
First up, Albi (Chris Dent) welcomes Bonnie Schwartz (cello and vocals) and Pete Shaw (piano accordion) from Manchester who perform as Good Habits. Their songs, banter and musicianship hold our attention from the get-go. This pair who were “happily stranded” here in 2020 exude an undiminished elation at performing in a not-quite-post-covid world.
Pete’s accordion playing has a wow-factor. The instrument has seldom sounded as good, I reckon. Close your eyes and it could be Paris or Naples at times. Bonnie’s cello is strapped to her chest, leaving her free to move around the stage while vigorously plucking her cello. It’s a long way from YoYo Ma and we’re loving it. Jazz, folk, who knows, who cares.
Bonnie’s voice is large and melliferous, and the way Pete and she look at each other tells me they are more than bandmates. This is later confirmed by the mutual delight in their eyes as Bonnie sang “I want to buy a fridge with you”.
They have a new album coming out next year, have Glastonbury on their resume, and will be at Womad Taranaki as part of a lengthy tour next year. Catch them. An engaging and super-talented pair whose last song, played with them each whacking the cello strings with chopsticks, had the audience spellbound.
Albi and the Wolves
Tonight the trio of Pascal Roggen (electric violin), Michael Young (double bass) and Chris Dent (Albi) (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) have become an eleven-piece wolf-pack with sufficient sound to more than fill gracious old Galatos Theatre.
Sufficient, that is, except for a hiccup from Albi’s guitar. First song in, there’s a hitch and he asks Pascal and Michael to keep things going while he dashes downstairs for a replacement bit of kit. Suddenly, the depth of Albi and The Wolves stagecraft is on display. Seamlessly, Pascal steps into comic mode, narrating anecdotes while Michael tosses in a couple of ‘Dad jokes’, keeping the audience onside.
Glitch over, Albi’s back and with fulsome backing (drums, keyboard, violins, sax, trumpet, trombone) they get into the groove. Is this folk? Some sort of jaunty jazz? Kiwi ‘Americana’? Again, there’s no easy box for this band, though their roots are firmly folk. And, like Good Habits, no one cares. Certainly not those dancing up front.
There’s a gusto they bring to the stage and an in-synch energy of having played together as friends so long. Pascal’s the mover and shaker. In Scoundrel Dog, he’s howling like a hound, while moving snake-live with his wild hair flying and violin wailing. Meanwhile, Michael smiles like a benign zen-master uncle, happily confind behind his upright bass. Albi, the centrepiece of the trio, cuts a striking figure with his white beard, his dark spectacle frames and grey suit.
An early crowd favourite is This is War. With a title that could be bad taste in these times, its instead a celebration of the hyperbole of fraught feelings when a relationship comes undone. Joy pervades such a song regardless. Chris reflects on the challenge of the covid lockdowns and how as a band remained upbeat “because we had friends and because we made music”.
The personal pervades. Chris sings of going sober (Clear Blue-Eyed) , of losing his brother (Pitter Patter – thematic shades of Don McGlashan’s Andy) and finding new love in Australia (Underpass). It’s mostly Chris at the mic, but on High On Your Sigh, Pascal offers soulful, jazzy vocals, Van Morrison– esque with some great sax-playing from the back row chipping in. Then suddenly, it’s a gear-shift and the band seems to be channelling Canada’s Great Big Sea with its maritime jig-flavour on All I Am.
Overall, a uplifting and expansive big-sound set from a band whose style is all about bringing in light after dark. Their songs are infused with a vibrancy, honesty and hope the world so badly needs. Thank goodness they’re locals and it won’t be long till next time.
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Albi & The Wolves:
Good Habits Setlist
The Earth Has Moved
Albi and The Wolves Setlist
A Little Time
This is War
Clear Blue Eyes
Next to Me
High in Your Sigh
I Will not Be Broken
All I Am
My Old Friend
I’m Not Free
Light After Dark
One Eye Open
It Ain’t Easy
Fall with You