By BRUCE DENNILL
Anna Wolf: What’s In The Woods Tour / Auto & General Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg
Pretoria-raised Melanie Le Roux’s career took off in South Africa under the stage name Tailor and has now stepped up again after a move to London and a re-branding as Anna Wolf. This new persona offers wonderful opportunities for the singer to develop herself as a character, as evidenced by the wolf masks handed out to every audience member entering a venue on her current South African tour, and the cloaked (and masked) assistants who sell her merchandise outside the venues.
On stage, there is a mix of the conventional and the less so. Guitarist Jannie Lategan plays acoustic and electric guitars and cues electronic pads and backing tracks, allowing the spotlight to remain firmly on Wolf. In that space, she maintains – certainly for the first part of the performance – an unapologetic mystique, not speaking to the audience as she begins solo, accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar. Later, Lategan arrives to fill in the gaps and Wolf focuses on her vocals, with an occasional side order of floor tom, kick drum and, right towards the end, a simple but gorgeous turn on a grand piano.
The singer’s inscrutable charisma is enhanced by her looks – raven-black hair with a fringe that ends just above her eyes, an all-black outfit and small, apparently random tattoos dotting her hands, arms and shoulders. And her voice is astonishing – soaring through the octaves without pause, but also warped (by design and with fascinating creativity and precision) into different tones and delivery styles. To begin with, there’s a touch of novelty about this approach, but as the set continues, and this mechanism is shown to clearly suit Wolf’s impressive and distinctive songwriting style, it feels ever less like a gimmick and more like an emblem of her unashamedly unique perspective on music, live performance and possibly life beyond that as well.
Wolf’s music is not at all mainstream, but it is constructed cleverly and performed with nothing less than complete commitment. And once you have become accustomed to the less predictable tics in her arrangements, it is possible to discern the sort of inimitable vision that has in the past set artists such a Kate Bush, Nina Hagen, Florence Welch and Sia apart from the pack, and to hear in her compositions the potential for being of similar influence.
There’s also a strong sense that Wolf will not at any stage compromise her ideas to suit whatever the current music industry trend may be, but will instead continue doing things her way – hugely compelling as it is. She is already being recognised with international songwriting awards, and the groundswell that will build as she continues to write, record and tour may see more significant breakthroughs sooner than later.