If you take a cursory glance at what music magazines have ever had to say about The Boxer Rebellion, the most common description you’ll find of them is that their music is fit for arenas. However, this is obviously a pretty bold statement to make. Sure, the band do tread similar sonic ground as concert hall conquerors The National and former tour mates Editors, but are their songs and performance made of strong enough stuff to move in to the theatres and arenas they allegedly deserve? Well, over a 75-minute set at Southampton’s Brook they proved the worthiness of their praise.
Sadly, proceedings were initiated on a less satisfying note by support Christof. Although his schtick of dulcet acoustic tones was undeniably competent, the resultant product was indistinguishable from any other plaid-shirted faux-raconteur; the only notable moment of his whole set being when one of his songs resembled ‘New Slang’ by The Shins, so much so it was enough to compile a well-standing court case. His performance was not helped by his awkward attempts at banter being coolly received by the audience, treating his acoustic endeavours like the lounge music that it is destined to be. Despite hailing from Holland, his music and performance was indiscernible from any bearded fellow performing on an acoustic night at Joiners; Christof should have instead saved up his air miles and gone on holiday to a place where he may have found some original ideas.
Nevertheless, upon the entrance of The Boxer Rebellion all things were rectified. Opening with the driving, brooding stormer ‘The Runner‘, the audience were suddenly transported from the modest dimensions of the Brook to Brixton Academy; the band’s overwhelmingly huge sound consuming every cubic centimetre of atmosphere available in the building.
One of the greatest worries with an act such as The Boxer Rebellion is how their sound is going to translate live; relying on textures and nuanced electronics may feel fantastic in the studio but if a group are unable to replicate these details in a live setting, songs that once felt energetic and mountainous become empty and lifeless. With The Boxer Rebellion, the band are able to recreate the subtleties of their studio work perfectly, and then some. Each member performs with passion and intent, making songs that already sounded massive on record all the more gargantuan.
Luck did try to spite them with technical difficulties, however these were handled with a professional resilience. “It’s our first night back [on tour]…if you hadn’t guessed” frontman Nathan Nicholson quipped before the four-piece continued to explore the extensive sonic palette of their back catalogue.
‘New York‘ saw Nicholson assume a fragile falsetto vocal, not dissimilar to Jeremy Enigk of Sunny Day Real Estate, all to the backdrop of pounding poly-rhythms and haunting synthetic chords. This was contrasted by the distorted and reverberated guitar tone of ‘Watermelon’, which saw Nicholson deliver a snarling vocal whilst excitably jumping around the stage like a child who had finally been let out to play. There were wails from the audience for the group to play it again but they politely turned down the offer, Nicholson lamenting “I’m too old to play that song again”.
However it was the final song of the set ‘The Gospel of Goro Adachi‘ that was the most intense and exhilarating moment of the night. Ascending from electronic pitter-patter in to an eruption of post-rock rapture; the group need not an encore, the attacking drone of guitars and snare rolls defining their mission statement.
The Boxer Rebellion proved that you can do what you want to do, sound how you want to sound and have some fucking fun whilst doing it.