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.