It’s a great setup at Sydney’s Factory Theatre; the city’s balmy spring climate means punters can enjoy the open air bar facilities pre-show to their fullest extent. Reasonably priced premium-strength European lager, mouthwatering barbeque smells and a cleverly curated mix of early nineties indie-rock hits blasting over the PA all combine to make it a bit of a wrench to actually go inside and listen to any bands, but we’re nothing if not professional here at Sentinel Daily, so, with stage time looming we dutifully drain our glasses and head into the venue for what promises to be a very special night indeed.
UK agit-punkers the Levellers are something of an alt.rock institution in their homeland, but remain largely a mystery in the former colonies. Such a mystery in fact that Mrs Sentinel Daily was forced to correct a glib man at the bar pre-show who described them to his companion as ‘sounding like Mumford and Sons’… Still, any such misconceptions anyone else might have been harbouring in the audience were safely put to bed over the course of a stunning exposition of musicianship and songcraft as the band ran faultlessly through their breakthrough album Levelling the Land in it’s entirety before peeling off a few more back catalogue gems for our general delectation.
Any band that can open with a triumvirate as strong as One Way, The Game and Fifteen Years is obviously pretty strongly placed to provide an evening of top notch entertainment with precious little flab or spurious faffing about, and the laid back brilliance with which the band go about their business underlines the masters that they’ve become in the twenty five days since Levelling the Land made its appearance on the musical landscape. Fifteen Years in particular revs up the pleasantly full dancefloor, vocalist Mark Chadwick leading from the front with a voice that still sounds as fresh as it did when the album came out; In fact, slightly grizzled visages aside, the band appears to have weathered a quarter of a century on the road very well indeed. Bassist Jeremy Cunningham in particular is very stage-mobile, spending large amounts of time on the drum riser or holding his Gibson Thunderbird aloft in salute to those gathered in front of him, whilst violinist Jon Sevink and multi instrumentalist Simon Friend, though more static, put nary a foot wrong all night.
Friend is the glue that holds the whole thing together, musically, switching between full bodied electric guitar rampage and delicate, gossamer mandolin effortlessly, adding some nice harmonica into the mix in addition. The Boatman is another favourite thrown in early – reminding the listener just how strong the original ‘Side A’ of Levelling the Land really was, and by now it’s clear that we’re in for a bit of a special night.
The collective nature of the band is then emphasised by the appearance on stage with an LED-adorned didgeridoo of Stephen Boakes, who, minutes before his appearance on stage was fulfilling his main role as the band’s on tour merch seller – who was very nervous about performing his ‘Coals to Newcastle’ act according to Chadwick, though he needn’t have worried, as it’s (of course) well performed and very warmly received. The second half of the album follows, and though it’s all performed faultlessly and with any amount of verve and gusto, it’s the personal favourites that inevitably connect most – thus Liberty Song, Another Man’s Cause and Battle of the Beanfield stand out in this reviewer’s memory, though everything was delivered to the highest level of performance.
Of course the band hasn’t come all this way to play one album and then head off into the night, even if that does mean falling foul of Sydney’s draconian lockout laws, and the second part of the show includes not only an inevitable run through of Beautiful Day but also a very welcome chance to hear Belarus for the first time in a long time (though Friend’s titanic, Metallicaesque riffage is strangely muted, thus stymieing the one true headbanging opportunity of the night). Strange, frankly awful dancing from much of the assembled throng accompanies the band’s high speed take on the Charlie Daniels Band classic The Devil Went Down to Georgia, which added to the weird sight of people, um, ‘air fiddling’ in tribute to Jon Sevink’s blistering performance whilst doing said dancing added some strange and frighting visual memories of the night to the brain…
So, not just a near-faultless trip down memory lane, but also a fine performance by a band seemingly as good now as they ever have been. Marvellous stuff.
Photograph courtesy of Kathryn Adams/Little Red Birdy