The Levellers, Royal Albert Hall, London

4.00

Barmy army celebrate 20 years of anarchy

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their formation, The Levellers have transformed the Royal Albert Hall into what appears to be a late-Eighties Greenpeace rally. Their fans (or the Merry Hitchers, as some prefer to be known) may be sat comparing nose-piercings and reminiscing over past protests for now, but the glazed glint in their eyes suggests that all are here to party like it's 1988.

For a band that have trademarked the phrase "Rolling Anarchy", the lavish 19th-century auditorium is an odd choice of venue, but this is a birthday party, after all, and perhaps even crusties desire a bit of bourgeois pomp on these occasions. Thankfully the irony is not lost on The Levellers' singer, guitarist and errant mouthpiece Mark Chadwick, who, bathed in the venue's sophisticated scarlet lighting, acknowledges how conspicuous he looks and feels.

As a slightly awkward introduction, Chadwick, with only violinist Jonathan Sevink on stage for company, announces how the evening will run. The first half of The Levellers' set is to be acoustic-based, showcasing the band's more mellow work, then, after a brief interval, the performance will turn electric.

It sounds an atypically choreographed affair from the now middle-aged nonconformists, but as the melancholic chords of "No Change" ring out around the venue, their well-oiled fans don't seem to mind. The song's sparse acoustic guitar and strings arrangement is reminiscent of Desire-era Bob Dylan, clearly an influence on a band who gamely romanticise "protest singers telling us what's wrong".

Multi-instrumentalist Simon Friend joins the band onstage for "Elation". Dressed in Cromwellian chic, his shoulder-length curls framing his face, he unleashes a voice that is easily as angsty and emotive as Chadwick's.

With the first half of the set gathering steam, the stage steadily fills – initially with the remaining members of The Levellers and then with a string quartet, bongo players and backing vocalists. The sound grows likewise, blooming from the frugal stirrings that opened proceedings into a pounding, electric-folk backbeat. However, the louder things get, the more the songs merge into one another, with melodies repeating and the stripped-down songs lacking the electric fizz they have on record. It's a limp climax to the first half of the set.

Now, I'm not sure how potent the organic pear cider is at the Royal Albert Hall, but as they stumbled back to their seats after the interval, The Levellers' fans were, in Chadwick's words, "definitely up for 'avin it". As the band tear into 1997's hit single, "What a Beautiful Day", the auditorium erupts into a dancing, wailing, dreadlocked monster.

Succumbing to the singer's trite demands to "rise up as one and start a revolution through dance", the crowd use the song as a rallying call, though its chest-beating sentiment seems little more than a nostalgic relic today.

Soon the inevitable Stop The War banners are waving in the front row, whistles are blown in and out of time with the music, and sweeping, grandiose strings drench the stage. As the set rumbles on, streams of high-tempo folk-punk are unleashed, the pounding beat utterly relentless.

The lyrics may be increasingly clumsy as the band clamour for contemporary relevance but the way they're playing is so full of Poguesian spirit it nevertheless sounds rousing. "Carry Me" breaks the mould slightly, introducing mild balladeering to the mix, giving the band's aging fans a well deserved rest before the final onslaught of "Men-an-Tol" and "One Way".

Things take a dip during the encore as the band veer off into songs from their experimental wilderness years – the awful rap and acid-drone of "This Garden" a particular low-point. However, as the band stutter to a close and the circus rolls out of town, the bewildered looks on the ushers' faces say it all.

Over their 20-year existence, The Levellers have frequently been misunderstood and perhaps unfairly written off as a niche band for social rejects. Sure, they wear their clichéd hearts firmly on their sleeves but it's something of a relief to see a band that still believe in something. Whether they have another 20 years in them remains to be seen, but judging from the reception they got here, their freaky fans may just demand it.

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits