LIVE: A Beautiful Day Out, Halifax Piece Hall 29/06/19
Whatever your thoughts on their music in recent years (and yeah, we’ll admit it, we have been quite critical on some of their recent output), the Levellers deserve a lot of credit for putting the Beautiful Days festivals together. Following last year’s successful outing to Manchester, 2019 sees a number of warm-up events in the early summer before the big ‘un down in Devon in August, and when the bill for the alldayer in Halifax (featuring Pure Rawk favourites Terrorvision, Therapy? and the Eureka Machines) was announced… well, it would’ve been rude not to really.
It’s been a good couple of years since your correspondent last saw the Eureka Machines and, if I’m brutally honest, I wasn’t actually that jazzed about their last couple of albums, but I think that’s more due to how high they set the bar with their first three than them being actively under-par, and when they kick in with Champion The Underdog, These Are The People Who Live In My House and Story Of My Life, it’s a timely reminder of how brilliant this band can be. The fact that the two more recent songs they play (Brain Waves and Revolution) comfortably hold their own in the live set is probably a sign that I need to revisit those newer albums, and you really can’t argue with the likes of I’m Wasting My Time Yet Again and a thunderous closing duo of Pop Star and Scream Eureka. Good stuff.
Ferocious Dog are probably the most obvious support band on here for a Levellers bill and bring plenty of effort to the afternoon with their spiky brand of folk-punk. Given that their recent album Fake News And Propaganda sounded good but a little bit lethargic to these ears, this is a most welcome development, although their tunes don’t quite jump out and grab you the way the bands either side of them do (the incendiary Black Gold nonetheless being the highlight here). I think on a lesser bill these guys would’ve shone more, but the fact that their set is probably the least memorable of the afternoon is more down to how good the rest of the bill was rather than any weakness on their part.
Therapy? have been a band reborn in recent years after a run of “difficult” albums in the late noughties, and today’s set is a good mix of the new and old, with the cuts you’d expect from the old days (Teethgrinder, Stories, Trigger Inside, a thunderous Turn) mixing well with newer numbers like Still Hurts and Callow from last year’s Pure Rawk Album of the Year Cleave. Messrs Cairns, McKeegan and Cooper keep things tight and focused throughout, and by the time Knives and Screamager finish the set off and trigger the first proper moshpit of the day, you’re in no doubt that this is a band that still packs a seriously vicious punch live.
Terrorvision were really on a no-lose here as Halifax is near-as-dammit home turf for them and when Alice, What’s The Matter? and Discotheque Wreck kick the set off with a vengeance, it’s clear that this one is going to be all killer no filler. From the mass chantalongs of Friends And Family, My House and Pretend Best Friend, to the more reflective Middleman and Some People Say, and a rare run through American TV off their debut album, this is pretty much a slam-dunk with the band keeping things tight throughout. By the time Oblivion and Perseverance round things off, Terrorvision have comprehensively proved that they can still cut it in 2019.
Which is probably the big question with the Levellers – a band who I haven’t actually seen live since way back in 1996. I did go through a phase of really liking them in the mid-nineties when a lot of my favourite bands consisted of blokes in dreadlocks and baggy shorts who were fond of dropping the phrase “capitalist oppression” into polite conversation (see also Back To The Planet, Senser etc), but as the decade wound to a close, it seemed as though they ran out of ideas a bit. After a killer run of three albums (1991’s classic Levelling The Land, their self-titled 1993 effort and 1995’s Zeitgeist), 1997’s Mouth To Mouth (and its irritatingly omnipresent single What A Beautiful Day) felt a bit by-numbers, and 1999’s Hello Pig really was just crap frankly. At that point I sort of wandered off, occasionally listening to new efforts if I knew they were out, but none of them ever really hit the heights of the early stuff. Then again, given that a lot of the material from the Levellers’ golden era was angrily railing against a country where an out-of-touch self-serving rudderless Tory government was rapidly self-destructing, and the lurking threat of right-wing nationalism was looking like a real danger, it’s safe to say that it’s maybe gained a new relevance over the last few years.
It’s clear from the crowd here that this is a band that still means something to an awful lot of people and I’m not gonna argue with that. And there’s definitely something about hearing Liberty Song and 15 Years and realising they still hold up pretty well after all this time that’s a bit heartening. I’d say I probably recognise about half of the set tonight, and it’s propelled along with enough of the same fire of old to keep it enjoyable – World Freak Show and Carry Me from the group’s first album A Weapon Called The Word still sound good as does the New Model Army style heroin lament of Julie and even the ultra-annoying What A Beautiful Day doesn’t sound too bad at a couple of decades’ distance. And a one-two of One Way and Hope Street is always gonna go down well, and is probably the highlight of the set. By the time the frenetic Riverflow brings things to a close, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that this wasn’t at least an enjoyable hour and a half. And all in all, it’s definitely been a most enjoyable day out. Hopefully there’ll be some more to follow next summer.