Its packed in here.
I would say packed to the rafters but there are no rafters in the venue just the beautiful old roof of a ballroom with huge chandeliers hanging off it. This is an amazing looking place and its depth of history and lack of punk rock dive power make it the perfect backdrop for a punk rock show.
ÃÂ In the dressing rooms there are pictures of ballroom dancers in the same hall nearly a century ago and the venue, perhaps the best looking venue in the UK, has a long and fascinating history since it was built in the 1860s that puts tonight’s amazing gig and the years of Rebellion punk festivals held here into a real context.
The Rolling Stones were famously involved in a famous riot here in 1964 that saw them banned from Blackpool for 35 years and the Stone Roses played that legendary 1989 breakthrough show here. The White Stripes also recorded their live DVD in the 3000 capacity venue, proclaiming it the best venue they had ever played in.
That’s just scratching the surface, so it’s a fitting place to see the return of the great Rancid, the band that have been carrying the battered standard of punk rock for so long without ever dropping it. Rancid have history as well and it’s the way they are still telling their story that makes them fascinating. Forming in San Francisco two decades ago from the ashes of the ska punk pioneers Operation Ivy they were a punk rock trio Ina. Time when no-one wanted punk rock trios. They adhered to a punk rock template that was a mixture of UK second wave leather studs and bristles street punk with a touch of American hardcore and a big dollop of the creative intensity of The Clash.
ÃÂ It shouldn’t have worked in those times when street punk had been dismissed as a style of music but Rancid’s song writing brilliance and the gradual reemergence of punk rock as a valid form of music saw them outsmart the dinosaur media and become standard bearers of a new wave of punk.
ÃÂ When the band broke big with their And Out Come The Wolves album in the mid nineties they continued to adhere to their punk rock morals and maintained a unique position in the pantheon of modern music- always willing to experiment like with side project The Transplants but also an inspiration to a huge worldwide network of punk rock kids who discovered the ultimate in folk musics by themselves and without hype or any kind of bullshit.
ÃÂ Rebellion Festival have been trying to book the band for a long time and there is a ripple of excitement all day that the band is playing and from the moment they hit the stage Rancid completely deliver. The band is truly of fire.
ÃÂ They look markedly different from their first visit to all all those years ago. Guitarist Lars Frederiksen is dressed as the super sharp skinhead with green checked shirt, docs and shorn hair. He is bouncing around the stage with the joy of playing these songs that go back the band’s beginning whilst frontman- the enigmatic Tim Armstrong has had an image change that is quite powerful, emerging with his head shorn exposing the spider web tattoo and with a full beard sprouting of his chin, bassist Matt Freeman is the only member of the crew to look the same as he puts in his incredible bass playing shift, bass playing that is a massive key part to the sound.
ÃÂ There is an emotional power that makes the band stand out from the herd. They may write those classic punk rock songs that drip melody and fierce intent but what makes them really strong is their emotional reach. There may be the punk staples of anger and community in the mix but there is also a fragility and vulnerability here that is best exposed by Tim Armstrong’s cracked voice as he intones a series of stories of street survival with a poetic glee.
ÃÂ Armstrong’s skinny frame and expressive body shape as he sings his songs is one of the defining images of Rancid and contrasts neatly with Lars Frederiksen’s more direct approach and the pair combine brilliantly, switiching verses and choruses in way that defines the band like a punk rock Lennon and MacCartney.
They deal out a varied set of songs that dot all their career tonight with the packed venue going crazy. I’ve never seen a moshpit this big in the Empress ballroom in all the years of coming to gigs here. These are classic songs that soundtrack modern punk rock and twist and turn in their style and imagination that make the band truly stand out. The band’s breakthrough album And Out Come The Wolves is very well represented but it’s all those years of consistently great albums that provides the key with songs from all periods making up the set.
ÃÂ The ferocity of attack and the emotional reach make Rancid stand out a mile.
ÃÂ These are songs for the bruised kids, the fucked up losers or the proud punk rock warriors. By now they should have burned out but they sound better than ever, they take their albums into the American top twenty, have never compromised and seem to be able to maintain that creative rush that made them stand out in the first place. They connect the old school punk with the modern world and are proof of the remaining firebrand power of punk rock and what it can mean in the modern world making it a vibrant form of modern music that means as much in the barrios of Rio De Janeiro as it does in the graffitied inner cities of Berlin squat land or to the mall rats across the USA.
ÃÂ Tim Armstrong drapes himself over his battered black guitar and does his mojo dance across the stage with his body shape defining the songs whilst the band just crank it up more and more. Tim is the charismatic waif like presence whose emotional vulnerability is on a par with the great Joe Strummer, he understands that punk rock was not about being tough but about being honest and Rancid really deliver that honesty time and time again tonight. Lars American blue collar attack is just as important underlined as they blast through Ruby Soho as the set culminates in a sea of bodies and joy and the band have delivered a set that has had the same impact as those historical gigs I mentioned earlier.
ÃÂ Tonight is one of the great live gigs, an amazing rush of fantastic songs played with a power and intent and proof that punk rock as a music still has power and purpose.