There are some bands that put out a solid record among an otherwise lackluster discography, and other bands that evolve in such a way that the listener can identify with each album on a personal level as times change. For me, The Boxer Rebellion is set firmly in the latter category. Though I’ve been a fan since hearing We Have This Place Surrounded off their first album, Exits, in 2005. After 13 years of fandom, it was time to finally see their show.
If you’ve never been to World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, let me set the scene. In comparison to their larger downstairs venue, upstairs (where The Boxer Rebellion would be playing), is an intimate stage most often used for smaller acts. A bar lines one side of the space, with tables set amongst the floor for patrons to eat a meal and have some drinks while watching an act perform. Not exactly the traditional rock and roll concert venue. We were sat close to the stage, and as the band came out on stage, Nathan made the joke “I don’t think we’ve ever played while people are eating dinner.” But as soon as he started singing “When you fail to understand, you fail to recognize” from What the Fuck, a song from their latest album Ghost Alive, everyone put down their forks and knives.
The Boxer Rebellion is a LOUD band. Not loud as in “we are going to push our amps to the range limit” loud, as in, they are a fantastic rock band that produces music that fills the room. Their music takes over the space. Nathan Nicholson has a voice so pure, so strong, so impassioned, that it’s hard to not be mesmerized. I was sitting maybe 15 feet away from him and the band, and I could feel the music consuming me. He took the microphone off the stand and walked into the crowd while belting No Harm. He used the nearby electric keyboard to sing New York as the crowd quietly listened. We bounced along as the band rocked out Evacuate. Every single member of the band gave it their all, even if it was only for a crowd of 200. Nathan and Andrew Smith started the encore by sitting in the crowd with an acoustic guitar, making us feel like we were all part of this special night they created. Because we were.
I’ve seen hundreds of concerts, listened to thousands of records, and The Boxer Rebellion is still one of my favorites. They’ve evolved their music as their sound has changed and grown, and have lyrics so full of emotion that it’s hard to not hang on every word. Good concerts makes you content, and a great concert makes you feel the full range of emotions. I walked out of World Cafe Live feeling it all. If you get the chance, go see the magic they create on stage. And stand as close to them as you can.
Every once in a while, an evening at a concert turns into a really special experience. On an otherwise quiet night in Philadelphia, that magic was discovered with Neil Young at The Tower Theater. The stage was dimly lit–one large Edison bulb hung over center-stage, with flickering candles scattered in the background. Instruments were lined up in a semi-circle just waiting to be picked–from an old upright piano to several acoustic guitars. As the house lights dimmed, the crowd eagerly awaited the arrival of Mr. Young.
As he slowly walked on stage, the crowd gave a warm welcome. Mr. Young walked amongst the instruments, waiting for one to whisper to him that it was ready to be played. After he selected a guitar, he started the evening with The Last Trip to Tulsa. Now maybe you can hear the way he’s changed over the years, but as the audience sat in complete silence listening to him sing “pulled over to the corner and I fell into a dream,” you’d be hard-pressed to say it wasn’t just as powerful as when he sang it first in 1969.
Mr. Young took a careful stroll among the instruments after each song, deciding which tune to play next. His tour crew occasionally fitting his harmonica holder over his head for songs like Four Strong Winds, or bringing a small acoustic guitar out for Pocahontas. While the crowd remained quiet and in awe for most of the night, uproarious praise rose when an electric guitar was brought out and the opening chords of Ohio were strung. Cast in a single downward spotlight, Mr. Young’s voice belted out across the crowd as he sung “four dead in Ohio.”
As someone who has listed to Neil Young and CSNY since they were too young to understand the meanings of the lyrics, I may be biased in my review. Neil Young represents a generation and a time that is (sadly) not much different than times we face now. He is a pioneer of 60s rock music and undeniably talented. As he sat under that single Edison bulb, no band to back him, just a stage full of instruments and a mind full of lyrics, he mesmerized this listener, and 3,000 other fans. Na na na na na na na...