I don’t normally write reviews. But not writing something is impossible, so. If you’re new to the blog, welcome, here is where I write stuff that I want to write. This probably isn’t a normal review. I don’t mention every single song, and it’s probably way too long, because when I’m excited I’m either gibbering or overly loquacious. I don’t even hand out any stars at the end of it. If I had to hand out stars, I’d give this gig all the stars that no-one ever sees in the night sky because the light’s too bright, all those galaxies pinwheeling and supernovas exploding and nebulae dazzling, all those unseen stars out there in the darkness.
So, my sister and I had a conversation last October, in which I yelped a lot and she said ‘yeah cool’ a bunch of times. My interpretation of this conversation was that I would get us both Angel Haze tickets, and that I would come stay with Sister (a mere 15 minute stroll from the venue) for the weekend. Yay! Plan! However, it transpired later that Sister must have been high as fuck at the time because she had no memory of any of this, so I put the ticket in her Christmas present and smugly accepted the title of Best Sister (we swap out the title depending on who needs a favour). Skip to early morning on the 16th January. And when I say early, I mean 5 bastard fucking 30 AM. The ten hour ferry journey (in storms! I love living on an island!) was just coming to an end and the loudspeaker announcing this woke me up from my floor-slumber. Yes, I took a ten hour ferry journey in stormy weather and slept on the floor just to see a gig. Don’t fucking judge me. I’m including this information because OF COURSE I DID. That’s the kind of loyalty that Angel Haze inspires in their fans. Do you know what it’s like to feel like the odd one out? To feel totally isolated? To go to the woods just to feel like there’s somewhere you fit? Angel Haze does. And they know how important it is to know that somewhere there’s a place, or a person, or a time, that you don’t have to do that for. And their magic is that they create that space for their fans, for them, for all of us.
So that night Sister and her friend G and I set out across the park with tickets, a spliff and a sense of purpose. And when we get there the queue is MASSIVE. I get chatting to the women behind me – everyone is juuuust about managing to keep their cool whilst secretly dying of anticipation. Just. Sister and G head off to get some beers for the wait, but the queue moves quickly, and by the time they get back with the cans, G has to run off and hide them somewhere under the railway bridge. Security are friendly, polite and efficient, but they’re still not going to let us bring our own cans in, obviously.
Downstairs… ah, downstairs. Already sweaty, warm, dark, crowded, your standard concrete box with low ceilings that makes everything feel intimate. I love places like this. Dunno why, normally I can’t bear being crowded, but tonight is special. I’m not being crowded by people. We’re part of the same living, breathing organism. I don’t bother checking my jacket, just want to get to a good spot to see the stage. Near the front, behind a couple of young studs, a hijabi, and a gorgeous bouncy bubbly femme with natural hair and a clingy grey top skimming curves like a Porsche on a Devonshire B-road. Everyone here is gorgeous. Everyone here is tingling with excitement and anticipation and goodwill. This is what I missed. I missed being with queers, I missed being with my people. I can let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding all that time. There’s a knock on the back of my ankles and I turn round – a woman in a wheelchair is standing behind me. I move aside, nudge the people in front of me out of the way, and say rather stupidly ‘Hey, you want to get to the front?’ (Of course she does, we all fucking do, but for this woman it’s the only way she’ll see anything at all.) What can I say, I have a knack for stating the obvious. She looks at me very evenly and says “I intend to”. FUCK YEAH. I love this crowd already.
Something’s happening onstage! Or maybe it isn’t. A few people whoop or whistle – we’re all so hyped that anything and everything gets us going. It’s the stage manager. Oooh, they’re buff actually. Crisp white t-shirt and locs, careful hands arranging and rearranging bottles of water on a table. Getting everything just right.
TK Kayembe, producer and DJ comes onstage, whoop whoop! Lights dimming, smoke pouring into the room, turning it hazy (I see what they did there). And. There they are, exploding onstage like a tiger bursting out of long grass. The crowd loses its collective shit. We whistle, stamp, yell, and our packleader yells right back. “Make some noise!” The volume in the room doubles. Then they get right to it.
Fuck. This album! This performance! Here is probably where I get a little incoherent, because that performance made my brain fall away like wet cake. In a good way. Such a good way. So this is going to be disjointed and it’s definitely out of order, but fuckit, who’s counting.
So first, Tk Kayembe – absolutely crackling. I want to take a few lines here just to say that as producer of the album – and of course of Werkin Girls – he’s done an amazing job, and as DJ on stage, there’s an incredible energy flow between him and the rapper bouncing around him. It’d be easy to overlook him (or anyone and everyone) when Angel Haze is flying around the stage like they’ve got fucking wings and springs on their feet, but he deserves props too before I get carried away and forget. THANKS MAN. Going to look out for his stuff in future and I really really hope to see the two of them collaborate further.
Haze’s delivery is crisp and sharp and completely throbbing with power. No holding back, they throw themselves into performance wholly and passionately. These are tracks that go straight from Haze’s heart to ours, utterly sincere and brutally uncompromising. And I’m utterly loving all the wolf and woods imagery. It’s beautiful and bleak like a bare tree in winter, stark against the skyline.
Bloody love ‘Impossible’, with its ‘middle finger up to white America’. Haze makes no apologies and pulls no punches, and when they matter-of-factly say that they ‘considered suicide, I do that these days’, it’s not to evoke sympathy, it just is, and that means that the power and the victory that follows has its truth emphasised, because nothing here is sugar-coated, and growth is created from pain. Actually, that’s true of pretty much the whole album – it’s more complex, it’s deeper. It’s amazing is what I’m saying, go buy five copies and give them to all your friends.
‘The Wolves’ is triumphant with anger and loyalty to Haze’s squad, and yes, this is the part where the wolves howl (first time round, the audience miss our cue because whilst yes we are wolves we are mostly British wolves with a certain amount of public shyness but NO ROOM for that here, get your howl on). “Every time I howl, wolves come, and you get bit”. Yesssss. I’m pressed up against at least five people and we’re all moving in unison – Haze has the audience in the palm of their hand and they’re bouncing us up and down.
So a couple of songs in, Angel Haze calls up a volunteer from the audience. Sadly I am way too short for my hand to be distinguishable from the million other hands that shoot up, but, ooh, they’ve found someone already. A gorgeous femme, tall and slender, short natural hair, and some really fucking cool trousers. From somewhere very close to me, someone yells ‘That’s my bitch’ and then the femme I saw right at the beginning, Ms Grey Curves, shimmies over the barrier straight onto the stage. Two femmes onstage! At this point I’m shrieking my glittery little heart out. FUCK YEAH FEMMES! Haze looks momentarily surprised to see another one appear, but still pays both of them singular attention throughout the song, singing to each, dancing with them, all of that whilst never missing a single beat or leaving anyone standing aside like a lemon. Fuuuuuck. Just when I thought I’d fallen as hard as is possible to fall for someone I’ve never spoken to, they’re showing love for queer black femmes. I wish this wasn’t such a big fucking deal but it IS a big fucking deal. Femmes get the shitty end of the stick way too often (not queer enough/doing it for the cis men/benefitting from heterosexism and all of those little fuck-yous that mean we don’t even get seen in our own communities), and showing love for the femmes, showing love for black women, fucking MATTERS (“There’s so many pretty curly-haired girls I can’t help but keep picking them!”).
And it’s not just the femmes! When it’s just Haze and Kayembe onstage again (and kudos to the two femmes for getting back offstage, I’m pretty sure I would have had to be dragged off), they come right up to the baby studs in front of me, and there is some hand-touching, and I see that look. It’s a really small look, and if you’ve never needed to see it, you’ve never seen it, and if you have needed to see it, you’ll never forget it. It says “I see you”. I see you. Doesn’t sound a lot, right? Wrong. It’s everything. When your choice is visibility or acceptance, to be seen or be safe – to be given both at the same time is fucking transformative. I see you, and I see what you have to deal with and you’re not alone now, you’re part of a pack, a pack of fucking wolves. I see you. That is the overwhelming vibe of the room. This is our space now.
Ohhh and we’re BACK because Haze has just jumped the barrier and is in the middle of their pack, belting out Babe Ruthless. Too short to see what the hell is happening, but I don’t need to see exactly, because there’s a current of electricity pulsing through the crowd and we’re all feeling what’s happening. Don’t know what it is, but it feels special. Haze shouts at one point “The more energy you give me, the more I can give you.” They must be buzzing right now in that case – every other fucker in the room is, we are off our collective tits on pure adrenalin and passion.
‘The Woods’ is heart-breakingly gorgeous. Partly because, ugh, so much of it sounded so familiar. Up above, where I mention about the woods being the only place that feels like home? Yeah that’s from this song. Whatever, I’m not even going to try and describe this one, just go listen to it. If you’re reading this, you’re on the internet. Here, I’ll make it easy for you: https://soundcloud.com/angxlhxze/sets/angel-haze-back-to-the-woods
Haze heads offstage, buoyed up on a cloud of adoration from the room, and we instantly start chanting ‘one more song’. They don’t even milk it, they come back, beaming at us all and burst straight into Battle Cry. I don’t care if the critics were snotty about it on the last album (so fucking what if there’s a popular guest star? Sia’s great), the critics were just flat-out wrong. It’s amazing. And everyone sings, everyone howls to the moon about what money cannot buy. We know what that is, what’s here tonight.
Ohhhhh and it’s not even over now! They very sweetly give us some new stuff (it’s great, obviously). And then they hang out for hours and hours at the merch table. Sadly I didn’t make it to the front of that particular queue (no money). But that’s ok, because (sing it with me now) money cannot buy….
So showing your heart, means ripping open your rib cage. Very few people will actually do that because it’s painful and raw and bloody. Very few people will embrace the strength that comes from holding up your vulnerabilities like a flag of victory. Angel Haze does it time and again. Angel Haze is changing the world. This gig changed mine.
Special thank to my genius sister who managed to get a picture of me and the pack leader in the same frame despite the venue being STACKED WITH WOLFPACK. I suspect her of wanting to reclaim Best Sister status.