RX Bandits – Live @ The Scala
aaamusic | On 08, Feb 2014
Thursday 6th February, London
Another week, another anniversary tour. So many punk and hardcore bands are doing these shows – playing the entirety of a fan favourite and/or landmark album – and nine times out of ten it reeks of cash incentives and unhealthy nostalgia. However, when I heard that California’s RX Bandits were coming to the UK to play The Resignation in full to celebrate its 10 year anniversary (note: the album was actually released in 2003, so the 10 year excuse has kind of expired), I didn’t feel an odd discomfort in my belly – one that usually accompanies such anniversary announcements.
Instead I felt genuine excitement; excited to hear again, in a live setting, an album so effortlessly interesting that I can safely credit it with expanding my teenage musical horizons. Furthermore, I felt confident that those aforementioned concerns with anniversary shows were inapplicable – this particular tour involves more intimate venues than RX are accustomed to, at least in comparison to The States, and that nostalgic element is only unhealthy when the band are either washed up and relying on old material, or if the album is naff and something of a guilty pleasure. RX Bandits are far from washed up, having continued to tour and release quality records (they have a new album in the works), and The Resignation has not only stood the test of time, but remains unsurpassed by their peers.
Tonight, at the dark and gritty London Scala, RX Bandits are in good company. The crowd are nothing but adoring. When the four ‘Bandits, joined by two additional horns players, take to the stage and launch into energetic opener ‘Sell You Beautiful’, and despite initial sound problems (quiet bass = quickly fixed), the audience ripples with enthusiasm. For the next hour or so, RX plough through The Resignation from start to finish, playing each track with sincere passion (i.e. not just going through the motions).
Their fusion of punk, ska and math rock is fuelled by the twin guitar fretwork of Steve Choi and frontman Matt Embree, with the latter’s impressive vocal range – even more notable today (see what I did there? Sorry) than 10 years ago – adding an emotive, post-hardcore edge not a million miles away from Far. When separated – such as with the galloping punk rock of ‘Newsstand Rock (Exposition)’ and the dubby ska of ‘Never Slept So Soundly’ – these subgenres are easily identifiable. But it’s the unique but natural blending of them that make RX such a remarkable outfit – songs like ‘Dinna-Dawg (And The Inevitable Onset Of Lunacy)’ and ‘Prophetic’ come alive through urgent, near-prog-rock riffing, quick-fire drumming and melodic-punk melodies. Embree’s choruses truly soar; none better than on ‘Never Slept So Soundly’ and ‘Falling Down The Mountain’, the latter with a sublime, extended jazz interlude led by the sax player. The brass players only chime in from time to time, when the music requires it, but other than a few key moments – that jazz interlude, the ska-heavy ‘Taking Chase As The Serpent Slithers’, and parts of ‘Pal-Treaux’ – they mainly keep quiet.
The undeniable highlights are ‘Mastering The List’ and album and main set closer ‘Decrescendo’. They are arguably the two best songs RX Bandits have ever written; at the very least they are the best from The Resignation. Both feature intricate, intelligent guitar passages, infectious melodies, subtle ska undertones and heavy, math-rock riffs that would make Biffy Clyro weak at the knees. Both are complete packages, encompassing all the wonderful layers of this band. The final quarter of ‘Decrescendo’ has the whole floor opening up, while the band aggressively lunge around the intimate stage – one of my all-time favourite climaxes to a punk rock song, and the perfect way to end both a record and a main set.
After a reasonably lengthy absence, in which the audience chant “RXB”, the band return for an encore, playing a few non-Resignation tracks. To be honest, although this encore includes two of their best tracks – ‘In Her Drawer’ from …And the Battle Begun and a joyful rendition of ‘Infection’ from Progress, minus the screams – tonight’s set was all about The Resignation. And it was a pitch-perfect performance; not done for money or exposure or any kind of pointless trip down memory lane, but done for the RX fans who willed them over from The States to these modest settings via sheer love. These fans don’t love RX Bandits just for The Resignation – as they love what the band has done before and since, evidenced by the reception the encore tracks get – but they do possibly love RX because of The Resignation. Like me, this album would probably have been the introduction to their brand of politically charged, progressive ska punk. And the band knows this. They’re humbled by this. And this is why they’re here tonight.
Clive Paris Rozario