Patrick Wolf, The Old Vic, London

 

Celebrating his five albums and 10-year pop career, Patrick Wolf kicks off a world tour by showcasing the songs that have made him famous.

Joined onstage by a 10-piece orchestra, tonight sees them play acoustic arrangements of his most recognisable works from his new double album of re-recordings, Sundark and Riverlight.

Opening with a hum of strings, Wolf sings "Ghost Songs" from offstage, appearing from the wings in the theatrical garb worthy of the venue. He emphasises both the ridiculous and imperious nature of tonight's performance by wearing a gold-laurel wreath and cape, but offers up something more sincere and down-to-earth in performance. There's a fragility and warmth in the simplicity of some the arrangements such as "Hard Times" and "Paris" that tease the audience into this woozy night of music.

There's a change in tone on "Bermondsey Street" as he struggles to remember the verses. Halting mid song, he admits to mixing up the "he's" and "she's" of the lyrics: "It's straight, then it's gay, it's straight, then it's gay," he repeats to himself nervously, quickly moving on to the bigger hits. "The City", "The Magic Position" and "Time of My Life" have the audience get up and start enjoying themselves, whooping with laughter as he dances provocatively on "The Libertine". His nervousness between songs seems more like a childish excitement than stage-fright. With too many toys to play with onstage and seemingly not enough time to play them, he jumps feverishly from piano to ukulele to harp and has to calm himself with an, "OK, now it's time to settle down," before moving on to more tender songs. "Teignmouth" provides a delicate  interplay of piano and harp, while the rousing chorus on "Together" brings nearby audience members to tears.

"I've never really been in love," he says, introducing the next song, "but I wrote a song to the city." Wolf pounds out the big, fat chords of Big Ben chimes on "London", which resonates with this year's Olympic and Jubilee fever. While there are some odder arrangements in which the vibrancy of the original electronics are missed, Sundark and Riverlight is more than a crass gimmicky set of reworkings; it's a worthy experiment in artistic musical arrangements.

"I'm going to go now," he says after playing the last track "Pigeon Song", "but I want to stay forever."

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