The Boxer Rebellion @ Islington Assembly Hall (Live Review)

Like the anti-colonial uprising they share a name with, only a small number of people within my sphere of influence seem to know much about the Boxer Rebellion.

The four-piece band (made up of one American and three Brits) released their first album Exits back in 2005 to much critical acclaim. Sadly, the band’s record label Poptones imploded a few months later and they’ve been going it alone ever since.

In 2009 the band released their second album Union and against all the odds made it to No.4 on the iTunes UK top 100 album chart, and reached No.2 in the alternative chart, with lead single ‘Evacuate’ becoming the first ever global iTunes single of the week.

It looked as if the Boxer Rebellion were on a path to fame and glory, and this was supported by the release of an equally excellent third album The Cold Still, which led to their first US Network television appearance and several music placements on TV and video games. For some reason that I still don’t really understand though, the band has struggled to break into the mainstream, the silver lining of which is that I’m always able to get tickets to see them live, and cheaply.

The Boxer Rebellion were in typically fine form at the Islington Hall Assembly, the last of their UK venues before popping over the Channel. Here, they were promoting the release of their sixth album Ghost Alive, which releases on March 23rd.

The gig started in a relatively low-key fashion, with acoustic opener ‘What the Fuck’ echoing pleasantly around the Assembly’s walls – the first of four tracks played from the new album and was followed up by older tracks ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Semi-Automatic’.

Lead singer, Nathan Nicholson has always been renowned for his gracefully versatile vocal range, but something was slightly amiss this time. Sure enough, after the first 15 minutes, he confessed to the crowd that he was struggling with a bad cold, before discreetly blowing his nose heavily into a tissue and then threatening to throw it into the crowd later as a memento.

The set continued with an eclectic mix of songs from their entire discography, from slower melodic tracks like ‘New York’ and ‘Big Ideas’, to more up-tempo numbers such as ‘Step Out of The Car’, ‘Spitting Fire’ and ‘Always’. Nathan struggled to hit some of the notes for ‘We Have This Place Surrounded’ but, consummate professional that he is, he pulled it off. Cold and all, it still sounded superb.

The end of the primary set list came too swiftly as usual. The encore comprised of three songs, starting with gentle acoustic number ‘Goodnight’, the last of the tracks played from the new album. Following this was ‘No Harm’, the titular single from The Cold Still many people liken to the Editors, and last but not least, ‘Gospel of Goro Adachi’.

As usual, ‘Gospel…’ was the highlight of the performance and has become a staple closer for the band. It still saddens me to this day that original lead guitarist and co-founder, Todd Howe, is no longer part of the band. But Piers Hewitt (with his Edge-like height and textural guitar style) continues to do a stellar job. When all four members thrash together in unison, it really is a thing to behold.

So how to conclude? I think the best thing you could say about a band you’ve just watched live is that I’ve been listening to them ever since on my iPod. That’s right, I still rock an iPod, so what? You know what else, the Boxer Rebellion still rock too.

p.s. thanks for the tissue Nathan, I will treasure it always.

Setlist:

  1. What the Fuck
  2. Let It Go
  3. Semi-Automatic
  4. New York
  5. Love Yourself
  6. Big Ideas
  7. We Have This Place Surrounded
  8. These Walls Are Thin
  9. Spitting Fire
  10. Caught by the Light
  11. Diamonds
  12. Step Out of the Car
  13. Always
  14. Here I Am

Encore:

  1. Goodnight
  2. No Harm
  3. The Gospel of Goro Adachi

Feature image credit: Nedda Afsari.