Fans of Wild Beasts will be used to seeing Tom Fleming (now going by the name One True Pairing) as part of the band on stage. An integral part but, next to the more flamboyant Hayden Thorpe, maybe a part that sometimes sank a little into the background during live shows. His contributions just as important, but his stage presence less pronounced. On Tuesday night at Manchester’s Yes, there was no background for him to sink into. On stage there was only him, his four guitars, and his friend Josh on the synths. Tom, with his fantastic self-titled debut album, has forced himself into the foreground.
And for a lot of the show, this looked to be something he was really wrestling with. There was a vulnerability to his performance, particularly as he tuned up or swapped guitars between songs and joked with the audience about how he used to have a team of people who would do this for him. There’s a clear sense that Tom was not the main decision maker when it came to breaking up the very successful band he was in just over a year ago, and that this decision is still affecting him now. The anxiety of stepping into the limelight seems to loom over him.
In a strange way, though, this sense of vulnerability is a perfect match to the brooding and personal songs he performed live. It added to the occasion. Tom has written an album of intense and claustrophobic songs which offer intimate admissions that were rarely offered when he was part of the band. When he forces out the couplet ‘I’m the dog you just can’t kick enough/show me love and I might bite your hand clean off’ during mid-set highlight ‘King of the Rats’, you genuinely believe that this is how he has felt about himself at times over the last year. When he tells us that he’s not afraid during the second song of the night, you sense that this was written at an instant when he felt more afraid than he had in a long time.
There is also a moment that makes you wonder when Tom dedicates ‘Reaper of Souls’ to the late, great Scott Hutchison. Scott, the lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, took his own life in May of last year following a long and well documented battle with depression. Like Scott, Tom has worn his mental health struggles on his sleeve in the songs on this latest album and you just hope that he was choosing to dedicate the song to Scott because he knows how much music misses this man rather than because he recognises his struggles in himself.
But enough about the extenuating factors I’ve discussed so far, most of you are here to hear about the music. And despite the nerves apparent in the non-musical moments, it was when he launched into the songs that all those worries dissipated and we saw the consummate performer that has been formed over the ten years or so of Wild Beasts tours. Yes, he had to command that stage more than in the past but he did that with ease. There was something incredibly refreshing about seeing him out there alone, using that incredible voice to tell his own story and fill his own space. As well as the songs I’ve already mentioned, ‘Weapons’, ‘Dawn at the Factory’, and the title song were particular highlights. It was a set that made me 100% sure that Tom has an exciting future without the band that made him famous. Yes’s Pink Room may have been emptier than I’ve seen it before, but if he keeps writing such good songs and putting so much passion into his performances, it won’t be long before the audiences and the venues are much larger.
Words by Fran Slater