On Tuesday 7th October I travelled down to London to see The Boxer Rebellion perform live tracks from their first two albums, Exits and Union. I reckon I’ve been following them for a good five or six years and had previously seen them at the Faversham, Cockpit (now sadly closed down) and Brudenell in Leeds, and as a massive fan of their early work I wasn’t going to miss this specially arranged gig.
One of the obvious benefits of watching the likes of The Boxer Rebellion and my other favourite band, Exit Calm, is the price of tickets. I think mine was about £14 including booking fees and all that jazz, while I also managed to get a return from Leeds to King’s Cross for under £30. Plus I had a sofa at a mate’s house in Islington I could kip on for the night, so it worked out very well indeed.
I’m glad I booked time off work for it because, quite simply, it was awesome. Walking out of the office at 1pm on a Tuesday to catch my train down to the capital felt pretty awesome too, might I add.
Ben (my mate in London) and I got to the venue relatively early so we bought a couple of drinks and picked a great spot to enjoy the music from. The lager was mega expensive so I supped gently and made it last the entire set of the support act, the Alvarez Kings – an indie band from Sheffield. At times they felt kind of edgy, and then kind of poppy; they were largely likeable but just lacked enough depth for me to discover more about them once the night was over.
The Boxer Rebellion began their set with a typically intense performance of The Gospel of Goro Adachi, which is normally something reserved for the end. But this was a special performance, in which they played songs exclusively from their first two albums. I don’t think I own another album that begins as menacingly brilliant as Exits, so it was a real treat to experience Flight and All You Do Is Talk live.
I can’t be the only person who thinks their first two albums are the best, otherwise they wouldn’t have organised this show. There’s just something much more hearty and broody about their earliest work; it’s a bit more aggressive and gritty. The screeching and scratching of the guitar feedback, as if trying to find its way into a rhythm, gets tempered by the introduction of the bass, and then the drums establish some sort of order from the chaos. It’s this rawness that I find so intriguing. Feedback and distortion doesn’t always make for easy listening, yet somehow here it just works.
And the departure of lead guitarist Todd Howe wasn’t an issue. However unusual new guitarist Andrew Smith found the occasion, he hit all the notes and generated the same power and passion from his strings, pedals and amps that Howe did since the band’s inception.
I can’t remember the setlist in great detail, but I think it went something like this:
The Gospel of Goro Adachi
World Without End
We Have This Place Surrounded
These Walls Are Thin
Flashing Red Light Means Go
Lay Me Down
All You Do Is Talk
There was a bit of interaction with the crowd, when front man Nathan Nicholson had trouble with his acoustic guitar for Soviets, so he attempted to describe what the song was about while we waited. But this didn’t happen very often from that point on, although Nicholson never has been much of a talker. You kind of don’t mind that when the music’s so good.
He did mention, briefly, that the band would like to do ‘something like this’ more often (to which someone at the back responded: ‘Well do it more, then!) but he added that it wasn’t always possible due to their intensive tour commitments. And they do tour heavily.
The venue was pretty decent, costly drinks apart. But I wasn’t there for the hugely overpriced lager. It’s location right next to King’s Cross was very convenient, and I was given the loosest frisk ever by a very large man on my way in. I don’t think his heart was in his job any more.
I don’t dislike the band’s more recent work and, given the chance to see them again, I’d enjoy the performance of tracks from their last two albums The Cold Still and Promises. Both have been successful (indeed Diamonds, the opening track of Promises, has been played over two million times on Spotify).
But the band have always acknowledged that they have a firm wedge of supporters that were there from the very start, and so the show at Scala was the perfect way to reward them. Whether they choose to arrange another night like that in the future is unknown.
I, for one, hope they do.