The Levellers, Brixton Academy, London
Tuesday 22 March 2011
Global recession, violent protests in central London, war in foreign countries – pretty unthinkable these days, of course, but 20 years ago it was the milieu that fed into Levelling the Land, the high-water mark for Brighton folk-rockers The Levellers. It was a collection of songs beloved by the indie fraternity, and treated with cynicism by the music press, who saw that the same hordes who bellowed back the band's righteous protest anthems and endorsements of a simpler way of life would just as happily have pulled on their Doc Martens and thrown themselves about to Kingmaker or (hurray) The Frank and Walters before catching the last train back to the suburbs. It was always a pedantic, rather patronising standpoint, and one put to the sword by the pogo-ing mass here to watch the band storm through the album – as earnest, two decades on, in their pursuit of a communal bounce-about as in their embrace of The Levellers' social message.
The Levellers take to the stage – after a blistering set from Miles Hunt's Stourbridge heroes, The Wonder Stuff – with their spirited anthem to individualism "One Way" – emblematic dreadlocks, headgear and didgeridoos largely intact. From there it's a sparklingly animated riot. Punkish, folk-rock set pieces are the highlights – "Liberty Song" and "The Riverflow" provoke a good deal of fist-punching and deafening sing-alongs – and a bonus take on Charlie Daniels's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" ("Occasionally we do ill-advised cover versions," says frontman Mark Chadwick) is a hoedown-ish delight.
The band's politicised moments still carry weight: the anti-war song "Another Man's Cause" is plangent and affecting, and multi-instrumentalist Simon Friend's "Battle of the Beanfield", a song about police attacks on New Age travellers in the Eighties, is incisive in a way that makes you think – and it's a horrible moment when you first do this – that when it comes to protest songs, they just don't make 'em like they used to.
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