Live Review: Wild Child, The Grand Social , Dublin (January 17th, 2024)
After ten years, most American bands replicate their signature hits, or rely on the strength of nostalgia, as they sail across the Atlantic seas for rain, reverie and afternoon tea. For Wild Child, the desire to experiment with their image and sound – it’s just songwriters Alexander Beggins & Kelsey Wilson and guitarist John Calvin Abney up there – means that the band offers something Dublin regulars haven’t heard before, and the trio, especially Wilson, thrives on spontaneity. By the time the trio are nearing the end of their set, they attempt a giddily ram-shackled rendition of ‘Silly Things’, complete with a barrelling solo from Abney, performing the track for one of the first run-throughs.
From the moment the pensive Wilson opens her mouth, the audience are welcome to participate in the session as if engaging with the material, and Abney in particular gets cheered whenever he takes over on an instrumental segment. Of the three, Beggins seems the most earnest, barely looking up from his ukulele or guitar whenever he strums, but that’s fine, because Wilson – all willowy hair and rapier sharp wit – is happy to take the centre of the attention. ‘Pillow Talk’ is the greatest example of their relationship, the duet exploring the mechanisms of young love,as the front persons divide their attention between one another and the paying public.
Sensibly, the band keep the jokes down to a minimum, although they’re unafraid to poke fun at one another (Wilson’s “I don’t believe that anymore: it’s absolutely untrue. We were nineteen,” is a particular hoot.) ‘Sleeping In’ benefits most from the “studio-to-stage” treatment, as the musicians tackle the song with a gusto that’s sadly missing from the album version, and this folk iteration of Wild Child carries on in a manner that’s as whimsical and playful as it is considerate of the emotional undercurrents the material demands.
Wild Child have stripped down the material for this particular tour, and while ‘Alex’ suffers from the lack of percussionist, some of the other ballads are perfectly suited to the new backdrop. ‘Going In’ feels like it was written for Abney, who moves up and down the fretboard with the dedication of a student mastering their self-appointed discipline.
Other highlights include the clap-along grooves of ‘Dear John’ and and the mesmerising, Beach-Boy style ‘Break Bones’, and Wilson – who has Irish heritage – seems genuinely moved to be in Dublin. Her voice, to the centre for the majority of songs,is the perfect cocktail of wistful and laconic, but that’s not downplaying Beggins’ importance, who performs some of the more intricate harmonies and provides the frame for the backdrop.
Wild Child closes the night with ‘Sinking Ship’, and a stentorian squall from Abney emphasises the band’s accomplishments. “I can learn from my mother,” Wilson sings, bringing a vocal that sounds quasi-Hopkinesque in its execution. And then they walk off the stage to be greeted by their fans, many of them more anxious to clamber around the band than they are in finishing their pints of Guinness. No better tribute than that!