all words: William Alberque
all photos: Julia Benton
I fell for the Boxer Rebellion opening for the Editors in Vienna in 2007. I loved it – they were touring on the songs that would become Exits, which goes down in my book as a near-perfect album (especially at that time) – and clearly had honed a live sound around a stable lineup over the past seven years. Exits catapulted them to some fame, with soundtrack work, advertisements, TV shows, and video games lining up to use their songs.
The new album – The Cold Still – just came out a month or so ago, and it has not quite grabbed me yet. I am sure, like Exits, it will grow on me. The band decided to play a staggering nine songs off it, which tested my patience just a bit. I know it must be tiring to play the same superb songs from Exits for – what, four years? – but as I said, the new songs haven’t sunk in yet. I would have been thrilled to hear more from the first two with four or five new ones instead. Still, you get what you get.
The opener, We Are Augustines, were…interesting. The volume was as loud as I’ve ever heard it upstairs, and I found myself keeping to the back to get a gauge for what they were playing. When I did, I was quite confused. This was not at all what I expected to open for the Boxer Rebellion. Arnold came over from behind the bar with a quizzical look on his face – “This is a bit more ‘rock’ than I expected.” I agreed. I would equate it to a mid-80s radio rock’n’roll band, somewhere just south of Born in the USA, but without Springsteen’s unique vocals. I disliked them, though much of the audience seemed quite into it. I have in my notes something about his hat and not being Indiana Jones. I was really having a bad time.
The Boxer Rebellion took the stage and opened with their new single. “Step Out of the Car” is an interesting choice from the album for the single and the opener, but the crowd recognizes it instantly and greet it quite warmly. I would have gone for “Both Sides Are Even,” which featured at the center of the set.
“Organ Song” follows, with frenetic drums and the characteristic soaring vocals of Tennessee-born Nathan Nicholson. The band definitely demonstrate their long familiarity, playing off each other with a palpable chemistry. They launch into the Radiohead-inflected, “Cowboys and Engines,” from the first album (Union) very noisy and fun. “Flashing Red Light Means Go” has me bouncing, and “Code Red,” with its U2-inflected vocals gives me a smile. They play the song from Going the Distance, “If You Run,” before a storming rendition of “Evacuate.” This is what I came for. I love this song with its frantic, romantic, enormous canvas of sound – like Kid A pitch-shifted to galloping speed.
The Rebellion bring in a couple more older songs, “Spitting Fire,” “Watermelon,” and “Misplaced,” but the pacing and setlist order is throwing me off. They play seventeen songs total – with the band showing real appreciation for the extremely loud demands for an encore. It’s strange though.
Going through my notes, I want to say I really loved the show. But, I know I walked out with my brow furrowed, slightly sad. The apocalypse of the final song – I think it was “The Gospel of Goro Adachi” – was well-played, but something’s changed. Maybe it’s me. Maybe that night in Vienna will never be repeated – for many, many reasons. Ah well, I hail a cab and head on to the next show…