The Boxer Rebellion returned to Shepherd’s Bush Empire this week to close their Ocean By Ocean world tour, and proved that although their sound has softened since their 2005 debut Exits; it’s still as spectacular as ever when heard live.
The four piece opened with two new tracks from Ocean By Ocean, and whilst the cheers between songs were gracious and loud; the crowd were especially receptive to third track and Exits favourite ‘We Have This Place Surrounded’. The song is permeated with The Boxer Rebellion’s trademark swelling guitar sounds, kinetic keyboards, and powerful drums. It’s nothing short of a pleasure to watch Nathan Nicholson, Adam Harrison, Piers Hewitt and Andrew Smith perform tracks like this together.
The middle of the set was heavily saturated with sensitive Promises tracks. The beautiful ‘You Belong To Me’ ‘was followed by the goose-bump-giving ‘New York’, before Nicholson and Smith broke the fourth wall and made their way in to the crowd to perform a faultless acoustic version of ‘Always’. Nicholson’s unique, clear voice is always a highlight of The Boxer Rebellion’s live performances, and was easily audible over the purposely hushed crowd.
Die hard fans will no doubt lament the loss of original guitarist Todd Howe, but newcomer Andrew Smith brings his own ability and talent to the role. He looks and sounds as if he has always been a part of the band (and the girls in the front row seemed smitten with him).
With five albums worth of material to choose from, some tracks inevitably didn’t make the set list. Singles ‘The Runner’ and ‘Keep Moving’ were left out, and much to the disappointment of one (annoying, mouthy) fan, ‘Soviets’ didn’t make the cut either. To atone for this, the band played ‘Evacuate’, one of their loudest and earliest tracks – though it didn’t sound as rough as it did the last time the band played the venue. Promises single ‘Diamonds’, however, lived up to it’s name.
The band closed their set with the sensational Exits opener ‘Flight’, but came back to perform an encore which included Ocean By Ocean‘s ‘Keep Close’, The Cold Still‘s ‘No Harm’, and Union‘s ‘The Gospel Of Goro Adachi’. Nicholson broke the fourth wall again during ‘No Harm’, and bassist Adam Harrison enthusiastically accompanied drummer Piers Hewitt on percussion to perform a stunning extended version of ‘The Gospel Of Goro Adachi’.
The Boxer Rebellion are a phenomenal group of musicians who perform with a reserved yet raw energy, and their atmospheric, altruistic sound transcends the ‘indie’ stamp they are often branded with. If you haven’t seen them live yet, you should remedy that ASAP. Fingers crossed for album number six, and another tour in 2017.
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