Boysetsfire, Bane and locals Apologies, I Have None close June in London with a bang and a scream
I miss going to hardcore shows. There’s an intense honesty and passion about that kind of music that other genres convey a lot less onstage. While many metal bands emphasize putting on a display and ‘showing off’, hardcore transmits energy naturally, and one look at the stage and crowd show how effortlessly both enjoy the experience. While there are naturally crossover points between hardcore and some metal shows – not least the concept of ‘the pit’ being very present in both – it’s easier to get caught up in the sheer enthusiasm that hardcore and post-hardcore bands bring with them. That was precisely what was on offer at the O2 Academy Islington on the last night of June; three bands getting up onstage and putting their all into it. The results were simply stunning.
I was very saddened to miss most of the opening set from local London lads Apologies, I Have None, as the two songs that I caught gave the distinct impression that they were a great band to watch. The familiar dynamic swing between downtempo verses and punk-rockin’ choruses was well-executed, and the strongly London-accented vocals lent a sense of frankness, with the repeated line “This is progress towards perfection” ringing in the audience’s ears long after the band finished. While a little more somber in atmosphere than what was to follow, Apologies, I Have None put on a great show, and garnered much-deserved interest from those who didn’t know them beforehand.
Despite being one of the longer-running hardcore bands in the business, and sporting an ex-Converge member to boot, my knowledge of Boston bruisers Bane prior to their set was almost non-existent. However, this did not decrease my appreciation one iota for the show they delivered, as the band tore through track after track with boundless energy. The band members miraculously managed to stay in control of their instruments as they bounced around the stage; one guitarist even stopping to sing at a couple of points. Frontman Aaron Bedard himself, decked in a sweater and baseball cap, was a whirling tower, weaving deftly around the musicians, and when he wasn’t onstage, he was hanging on the barrier trading lyrics with the literal pile of people clambering to scream into the mic. While many of the lyrics were of the conventional life-affirming variety, some stuck in the brain as rather odd: “I will believe in dragons for as long as I run with dragons”, for instance. The pit throughout was incredible; a mass of writhing limbs akin to an open pan of popcorn exploding in different directions. Surprisingly, the band took crowd requests, as enough people were screaming for “Superhero” that it happened right at the end, causing even further ruckus to end the set with a bang. It was clear on the band’s faces that they were not expecting quite such a strong reaction, but the London crowd didn’t disappoint, and the beaming smiles all round indicated a resounding success.
Attempting to explain Boysetsfire to the uninitiated is a task I find nigh on impossible. Treading the boundary between post-hardcore and punk rock, every album they’ve released is an eclectic mix that somehow blends seamlessly in a live environment. The set they put on was a healthy mix of old and new, stretching back to their 2001 classic After The Eulogy, whose explosive title track kicked off proceedings splendidly. With an empowering scream of “Rise! Rise!”, the crowd were instantly on their feet and moving as the band gave a comprehensive crash course in their diverse sound. From anthemic chorus-driven numbers like “Requiem” and “Rookie” through to punishing hardcore in “Release The Dogs” and fresh number “Until Nothing Remains”, it was all there. The band were clearly having a lot of fun, particularly bringing out the new material; “Never Said” very nearly got played twice, they enjoyed it so much!
As can be expected for a band as seasoned as these guys, Boysetsfire were a tight cohesive unit but left room to rock out, particularly the energetic bassist Robert Ehrenbrand. Guitarists Chad Istvan and Josh Latshaw provided backup singing and screams respectively, while newcomer drummer Jared, ribbed by the others for being almost constantly shirtless, was flawless in his drumming. However, the five would not have been complete without the enthralling performance that frontman Nathan Gray delivered. Despite having been on the circuit for nearly twenty years, his vocals (along with the rest of the performers) were top-notch; both his ferocious screams and his soaring cleans. Whether leading the crowd in sing-alongs or bent over double on his knees and still able to scream the title to “Everything Went Black”, Nathan re-established himself yet again as a vocal force to be reckoned with, resonating dichotomously with his sheepish demeanor between songs. His playful interaction with the other band members and adoring female fans in the front row provided hilarious banter, but he himself admitted he’s ‘not much of a rockstar’. More power to him for the emotional performance then, particularly during the heartstring-tugging classics “With Cold Eyes” and (my first ever Boysetsfire song) “My Life In The Knife Trade”, where the crowd’s singing came close to overpowering Nathan’s. “Trade my life for a barrel of gold…”
The band did themselves no favors as they pretended to play their ‘last song’, and then walked off; the main lights were still off, the amp lights were red, the crowd knew they were getting more. Nevertheless, the chant of “Boy! Sets! Fire!” struck up, and the band came out again to loud applause for a couple more thundering tracks, ending in Nathan hopping the barrier to chat, hug, and take photos with fans. This gesture of reaching out to fans and being genuinely touched by the enthusiastic comments they made was the icing on the concert-cake, and Nathan’s comments in my upcoming interview with him about preferring the term “community” over “fans” echoed in my head as we exited the venue. Now that is the sign of a band who truly cares about their own, and one of the many reasons Boysetsfire remain so close to my heart.
Many thanks to the bands, band manager Oise and Matt Hughes of Devil PR for the opportunity.