Single launches can sometimes be dreary occasions. So it was exciting to hear that for their Shrines & Ceremonies launch, Twin Headed Wolf planned something different. The single itself, is a well crafted and beautiful piece, recorded by none other than Gavin Glass but the launch managed to exceeded itself in its equally curious and attention holding methods.
Upon entering the The Back Loft I was greeted by a small group of musicians on stage, surrounded by animal skulls, old jugs, archaic radios and an assortment of other stage dressing. Comprising of a core backing band of piano, guitar, fiddle and theromin they played jaunty gypsy style standards leading up to the show.
Still hovering at the door, I suddenly noticed beside me a girl sitting in a basket clutching a guitar, remaining motionless.
As I began to scan the room I became aware that she was just one of many human statues holding instruments that lurked against the walls. They were dotted around the room standing in tableau pose somewhat reminiscent of Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England
The crowd settled in and the show began. A single dancer emerged and plucked out a member of the audience to dance with her when suddenly – he died.
While both playful and obviously staged this “death” laid eery intimations as to how the show might just play with your perceptions regarding the division of performers and audience. Then, without haste a funeral precession appeared. The two members of Twin Headed Wolf emerged from the sidelines, one dressed in the style of a ringleader, the other in the form of a human marionette suspended from strings and maneuvered by a looming figure on stilts. Fleshed out by performers and dancers dressed in equally surreal attire, this bizarre assembly began to perform what felt like either a ritual of mourning or reanimation for the benefit of the dead audience member. The chanting and incantations seemed as indebted to native American ritual as it did pagan. And as the precession moved around the room the human statue performers came to life performing a series of songs dealing with leaving and death before returning to the stage area where Twin Headed Wolf performed some pieces of their own.
After a few numbers and some other theatrical diversions an intermission followed so people had due time to process what they had just witnessed. Not long passed before the second half commenced and reality retreated. The once disjointed and seemingly extraneous musicians now joined the core band. This proved to solidify the disorientating feel of the first half to become a deeper and more cohesive part of the show. Each piece of music was played in a unique way. One song used the theatrical setting to allow the two twins to perform from either side of the audience, which made you feel like you were the impenetrable medium that they were attempting to break through. Other songs utilized the large ensemble cast to create a dense atmosphere, at times replicating the pouring rain and at others taking the role of prowling wild dogs lurking behind you, creating rushes of uneasiness and vulnerability.
Anybody who has seen Twin Headed Wolf play one of the many support slots they’ve had will have seen their inventiveness first-hand. They are known for singing into jugs, playing musical saws, and even emulating trumpets by singing into tin cans. But this show demonstrated what their abilities outside of the realm of stripped back shows, without having to limit their imagination. The freedom of the stage show allows them to create a collision of burlesque, musical theater and folklore storytelling that gives them a real platform to flesh out the themes that lurk in the background of smaller shows.
Alongside a short puppet show on the subject of murdering boys, two dense soliloquies occurred during the performance. One talked of music and myths, claiming a love of music that was for its sound and shape “not the things it represented”. The other spoke on the band itself. The dancer who performed these passages spoke as if she had experienced a conversion, of how the group had changed her life; but also mythologized and recounted the troubled birth and how one gave life to the other in one of many supernatural acts of symbiosis. It is impressive to see a group on their first release have such a cohesive aesthetic, creating its own mythology and dealing with the intertextuality of their own work.
At times during the show you had feelings that simulated what one might imagine being inducted into a cult would be like. The ritualism, the music, the repeated ideas of intertwinement – behind all of this is a menacing undercurrent. Many of the songs deal with the dark side of symbiosis. “You are the poison arrow that pierces my chest” is sang in haunting cannon at one point. At another “When you exhale, I am the wheeze, I am you voice and you’ll never be free” is promised with simmering malice.
At points the twins’ connection is used in almost supernatural ways. On “The Rain”, which was accompanied by some willing audience participation to click their fingers to create the impression of waves of showers overhead. During this the twins assumed the role of prophets, forseeing a rain that “will wash us both away”.
It could be said that their style of songwriting is similar to that of Nick Cave. Exploring the dark sides of love and hate coexisting in a folk inspired form. Their songs attempt to tap into the innate darkness in English and Irish music and history. This is something Ireland is used to seeing more in theater than in music, but through delicate craft and pure innovation Twin Headed Wolf pulled all the strands together that night.
Listen to the song ‘Black Keys’ on Soundcloud
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Thanks to Karina Guinan for the photos.