LIVE REVIEW: The Levellers – Camden Roundhouse, London

In 2017, The Telegraph included The Levellers 1994 Glastonbury performance in the “top 50 best Glastonbury performances ever”. This performance drew the biggest crowd the Pyramid Stage ever saw with up to “300,000 people” seeing the show. In 1996, The Levellers followed up their number one album, Zeitgeist, with an acclaimed live album, Headlights, White Lines, Black Tar Rivers (Best Live). “Fifteen Years” ago, The Levellers started their own festival, which despite not having any “corporate sponsorship or branding”; continues to sell out each year. Having already been established with a fantastic live reputation, guaranteeing Joie de vivre for fans old and new; The Levellers decided to abandon these live tried and tested recipes and rearrange their back catalogue with new acoustic arrangements.

By the time The Levellers broke through, they were five; in 2003 they became six (thanks to Matt Savage (The original “Our Garth” in Birds of a Feather). In 2018, live at the Roundhouse, they were ten. Exodus opened the set. Whilst the antithesis of the original; the additional string sections offered more purity allowing the listener to absorb and interpret the lyrics Mark Chadwick sang. After just one song, The Levellers had won over the audience (many who had been fans since their inception (thirty years ago) and accustomed to the established traditions and rituals of a Levellers gig). The Levellers quickly proved that “The only wrong is fighting changing times”.

England My Home, taken from their debut album, A Weapon Called the Word followed. This heavy folk punk classic, which guarantees to gather sweaty adrenaline fuelled fans as a collective into a mosh pit was rearranged to enchant a sanguine seated audience. The absence of the active mosh pit and electric guitars and bass allowed therapeutic contemplation of the lyrics. “Why is it England I feel like rubbish on your streets? Why is it when I care I feel incomplete? Why does our future seem such a feat? When will our consciousness finally meet?”

The evening would bring many unexpected and pleasant surprises. For example, the rearrangements of Liberty had a dysfunctional resemblance to Leonard Cohen’s Stranger Song. At first, it felt strange without Simon Friend roaring “LIBERTY!” before the band began the song, but nonetheless despite few of the original musical arrangements remaining; it felt as organic and politically charged as the punk fuelled original. The Levellers also played Edge of the World and 61 Minutes of Pleading off their sixth album, Hello Pig, which despite receiving outstanding reviews was not especially well received by fans. Played in full clarity and purity, these two songs probably got the loudest and longest applause’s; inevitably prompting fans to give Hello Pig another listen. The Levellers also covered The Zounds, Subvert. This punk free rendition (albeit for the pounding drums), little more than one minute and thirty seconds; had the ability to introduce anarchist ideas to even the hardest Brexit of Tories.

As if ten musicians were not enough, The Levellers became an eleven-piece by introducing Stephen Boakes, long time touring musician to play the Didgeridoo on Elation. The Levellers also demonstrated that as well as their ability to reinvent their material and other artist’s material; they could still produce new original hits. The new song, Drug Bust McGee opened with the unnerving lyric “I stole my name from a dead baby”. Also, The Shame demonstrated how The Levellers, even after thirty years, are still expert social commentators on the global turmoil the world is currently facing: “They crept out of hiding and ran for their lives. Too young for the fighting, too young to take sides. They’re hoping for the future washed up there in the brine”. Whilst there was a painful reflection, there were many moments of optimistic carefree jubilation when the band played their biggest selling single, Just the One, as well as One Way and Outside Inside.

Very few bands are still about to peak as live performers after thirty years of existence. Fewer bands are able to do this without being beholden to playing their greatest hits. The Levellers still peaked at The Roundhouse without playing: What a beautiful Day, This Garden, Dirty Davey or Carry Me. Furthermore, they played just three songs from Levelling the Land, which due to fans demands; they have played in it’s entirely on many occasions. The Levellers disregarded fans hopes and expectations and replaced them with something far better. The Levellers have evolved to be more than just a great live band; they have become a collective.

Michael Barron

Michael Barron

MICHAEL BARRON first began writing whilst studying at university; reviewing the latest releases and live gigs. He has since contributed to the Fortean Times as well as other publications.Michael’s musical tastes vary from Indie to psychedelic, folk and dubstep.
Michael Barron