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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice