LIVE: This Wild Life / William Ryan Key @ The Key Club, Leeds

By Gem Rogers

Leeds’ Key Club is everything a small venue should be – dark, sweaty, underground, with a good bar, great sound, the world’s stickiest floors, and mildly questionable toilets. And an over-stage sewage pipe. The last one may be slightly more specific, but it’s always a good venue to see crop up on a tour announcement – and tonight it’s playing host to the unmissable co-headline tour of former Yellowcard front man William Ryan Key and Cali acoustic rockers This Wild Life.

The evening is started early with local musician Emmy Campbell, playing soothing tunes on her acoustic guitar – “Hi, I’m Emmy, I write sad songs because I’m bitter,” she says as she opens her set. There’s not much bitterness about her sound, though, and alongside her original songs are excellent covers of Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Drown’ and ‘Take Me As You Please’ by The Story So Far that are enjoyed by all who arrived at the venue in time.

There’s only a quick fifteen minute turnaround before William Ryan Key takes to the stage to the atmospheric, instrumental ‘Virtue’ EP track ‘The Same Destination’. It’s not Key’s first solo trip to the UK, but it is his first since the release of any new material and, as a result, it feels like an important moment. As the music flows smoothly into ‘Mortar and Stone’, Key seems truly settled into his status as solo artist, embracing all the vulnerability that comes with it and crafting it into beautiful new sounds.

It comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with Key’s career so far that his performance is pitch perfect; his distinctive vocals are as mesmerising and loaded with feeling as ever. That he has been able to so easily move to such a different style of music is testament to his talent as a musician, and the songs from latest EP ‘Virtue’ are especially transcendent in this live setting. There’s also more than a handful of Yellowcard fans in the crowd, and with only two solo EPs to his name so far there’s enough time to include some old favourites. Best of all, these aren’t just standard acoustic versions of the band’s greatest hits – though ‘Only One’ and ‘Ocean Avenue’ make for crowd pleasing singalongs – as reworked versions of rarely (or never) played tracks ‘Keeper’, ‘MSK’, and ‘Fields & Fences’ sound both fresh and incredibly special.

The whole set has a warm and welcoming feeling – Key jokingly describes it as having “storyteller vibes”, but there’s no better way to describe it. Pausing occasionally to talk through his songs and the choices behind them, it’s an hour that’s made for people who love not only the music, but the stories that inspire it. Closing track ‘Virtue’ is a triumphant masterpiece, a glowing end to a wonderful set that holds huge amounts of promise for Key’s new path as well as for fans new and old.

In keeping with the visuals from their 2018 ‘Petaluma’ album, the stage is covered in sunflowers for tonight’s final artist, and there couldn’t be a more appropriate flower – if any band can bring sunshine into a room, it’s This Wild Life. They’re here to play us “prescription strength emotional music”, and it definitely manages to cure a multitude of ills; with laughter and melodies, the dark world outside fades into distant memory compared to the joy that fills this small room.

Kicking off with the first track from debut full length ‘Clouded’, ‘Concrete’ gets the singalongs going immediately. This Wild Life are a band who fly under the radar, but it doesn’t in any way dull the love their fans have for them; there’s fierce affection and loyalty in the voices that join front man Kevin Jordan. Of course, it’s hard not to love a band who proudly declare that they “have very few love songs… and even fewer that aren’t about dogs”. Their gentle style is still full of life, with both Jordan and guitarist Anthony Del Grosso having an infectious energy as they glide through ‘Petaluma’ tracks ‘Westside’ and the uplifting ‘Positively Negative’ alongside older favourites like ‘History’ and ‘Ripped Away’.

There’s a huge amount of fun in this set, feeling more like a gathering of old friends than a gig – from the Blink-182 mashup cover that baffles all who try to sing along, to shining torches on a couple encouraged to slow dance through ‘Hold You Here’, it’s impossible not to smile (and smile often). Along with the immaculately delivered music and captivating vocals, it’s a deeply heartwarming 45 minutes that feels all too short as the night ends with ‘No More Bad Days’, an emotive track dedicated to Jordan’s mother.

Tonight Leeds has been treated to impressive sets from two very different artists, but who both generate feelings of intense warmth and joy. It may be the middle of winter, but for a few brief hours in The Key Club, it felt like the brightest of summer days- we wish shows like this came along more often.