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Live Review: Wunderhorse

SWX, Bristol - 25/10/2023





Growing up in the early 2000s and raised on my parents’ heavily nineties leaning record collection, I’ve often wished I was a teenager of that decade. Knowing I’ll never experience the likes of Elliott Smith, Nirvana and Jeff Buckley in a live setting is a difficult reality to grapple with.


It’s Wednesday 25th October in the year 2023, but for all those crammed into Bristol’s SWX’s standing area, eagerly awaiting the arrival of grunge-induced quartet heavily influenced by the nineties artists above, Wunderhorse, it could easily be 1993. There’s band tees (albeit Fontaines D.C. garments, namely as the headliner tonight supported the Dublin quintet merely a year ago), leather jackets and too many pairs of Dr Martens to count (admittedly I’m donning double leather paired with platform docs, so have no leg to stand on here).


The crowd is completely crammed by 9pm when Wunderhorse come out onto the stage. Opening with the Sweet Home Alabama reminiscent riff of Leader Of The Pack, the crowd erupt into reckless and chaotic moshing; you can wave goodbye to all personal space. It sounds menacing at points before slowing down into beautiful, slow vocals from Slater (‘All my life’) which leads to a crowd sing-a-long before reverting back to a guitar drenched, angry release.


When a band tour with only a debut album behind them, it’s common for the setlist to be made up pretty much only by these released tunes. However, tonight, Wunderhorse have their eyes fixated on the future, with almost half of their live set being made up of tracks geared up to be on their sophomore record out next year. You’d think this to be a risky move playing songs that your audience won’t know (especially when you’ve sold out a venue of around 1,800), but the energy of the crowd throughout these currently unreleased tracks does not falter. Stand-out tracks include Superman, a haunting track that in true Wunderhorse style builds to a climax before exploding, Slater raising his fist towards the audience as he growls, “Superman I am”. Similarly, Midas has the same fuzzy rock element and snarling, punchy guitars as heard on Cub, and already is becoming a fan favourite online.


However, the highlight of the evening comes when the lights turn a very specific shade of blue, signifying the beginning of the band’s hit single, Teal. As soon as the opening notes become clear, the crowd goes into frenzy, iPhones are raised above heads as an array of slightly off shades of blue illuminate the screens and security nervously stand up on the barriers ready to spring into action in case anything goes awry. Personally, this is one of the best songs I’ve heard maybe this decade (I could be biased because of that line, but hey!), and the way it starts slow and builds into a strong, emotionally charged rock anthem brings immense energy in a live setting. Everybody sings every word, but as we approach “All of your friends/They say that they need ya/When you need them/They just get up and leave ya”, the voices get louder to the point, Slater can no longer be heard. “What if it did Katie?/What if it killed her?” is screamed as a collective so passionately, you’d think we all knew the characters within the lyrics personally, the emotional weight of the last few minutes providing so much catharsis.


Another fan favourite tonight is very clearly Purple, a track that sounds like if Ed Sheeran’s A Team had the punchy, grungy, angry sonics of a 1990s indie anthem and was paired with a bit of Coldplay-esque stadium rock energy. A very similar response ensues for the majority of the tune. As the final chorus (sung much softer and almost a cappella on the studio recording), the crowd’s voices are so loud, Slater surrenders, leaving the audience to lead. A middle-aged couple in front of me wave their entangled arms in the air, their fingers interlocking at the knuckles, as Slater rejoins singing ‘There’s a home for you here in my heart’ accompanied by almost a thousand other voices.


It’s the beauty of Wunderhorse’s music live. In comparison to the recordings, live these songs pack more of a punch. It sounds grittier, rawer. Slater’s vocals translate much rougher around the edges (although this could be down to him addressing the crowd that he is ‘sick as a dog’ tonight). There’s also a more feral and unpredictable element to the songs, and not just within the crowd, as the band play extended intros and outros for songs, leaving even the most hardcore of fans among the audience guessing what the next tune could be. Consequently, there is very little crowd interaction, no introduction to the band or its members, no cliche “hello Bristol!” The music does the talking. And although I’d like to hear a little bit from the band I’m seeing live, it’s ok. The intense passion in the atmosphere more than makes up for it.


Despite Purple feeling like the ultimate high and most euphoric moment in the set, the band close out the night on Poppy, one of Cub’s more psychedelic and down-tempo numbers. A lot of the people around me struggle to sing along, however, as we approach the final minutes of the show, the band just jam onstage for an extended period of time, increasing the song to almost three times its length, the music intensifying and the moshing of the crowd becoming more and more reckless. The Stone Roses influence cited by Slater in Apple Music’s track-by-track of the album is incredibly evident here, and really works in comparison to the more ethereal sonics of the beginning of the song. The audience are up for it until the final moments when the band finally leave the stage, to the point many stick around afterwards chanting for one more song, longing for the night not to be over so soon.


The nineties may have ended two decades ago. And Buckley, Smith and Cobain may no longer be here. But it’s Wunderhorse who are keeping the angst and grunge of proper rock and roll alive for all those who couldn’t experience it all the first time around.


KATIE HILLIER





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