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09 December 2006: Levellers - Victoria Hall, Hanley, Stoke on Trent, England, UK
I missed the 3 Daft Monkeys. Again. I have got to start making an effort to get to the venue in time for the warm up act, as by all reports the 3 Daft Monkeys put on a storming set, which reportedly got the crowd rocking and ready for the Levellers.
I did in fact hear the end of the 3DM’s set and it sounded good, but I was too intent on buying my pint from the “bar with the overstretched bar staff”.
Victoria Hall looks new from the outside and the entrance area is very plush. However, once you get into the main hall it is like an old theatre, but with the stalls removed to leave a large standing area, plus seating on the upper two tiers.
Last time I was at this venue I could have walked in without a ticket, the security was so lax, but this time it was a lot more strict and I had to dig around for my ticket while desperately trying not to spill my pint.
After a short wait the lights went down, the intro began and the huge backdrop was lit up by the rotating spotlights. The band appeared, the crowd erupted and we were launched into “100 Years Of Solitude”.
Mark seemed to be quite angry during the first three or four songs and really punched out his vocals quite aggressively and the whole band seemed to be on fire. Perhaps it was because it was the penultimate night of the tour and Christmas is coming, but it could easily have been because they’d all spent the afternoon in the pub. I suspect the latter as later on in the set Mark pointed at someone in the crowd and said “I recognise you sir, from the Albion”, a pub just around the corner from the venue.
My trusty setlist recorder (camera) had rather selfishly broken down earlier in the day (so you will be spared any photo’s), so I don’t know the full setlist, but up next came “15 Years”, an excellent version of “Last Man Alive” and “The Road”, before “61 Minutes Of Pleading” slowed it down.
The crowd had quietened down a lot by the time the next song was played. This was a new song (“Inevitable”, I have since found out) which seemed OK, but didn’t exactly thrill me. However, it normally takes me a few listens to get to like anything and at least it shows that the Levellers are in the process of lovingly crafting a new album together.
“What A Beautiful Day” followed a track which is a crowd favourite and sure enough we were bouncing around again almost immediately.
I often get asked when I announce that I’ve got a Levellers ticket “Why are you going to see them again?” and the next track answered the question.
As well as each Levellers being a completely different experience to the last, often with a different set-list and each with a different feel, there’s the fact that you never know what’s going to happen next.
What happened next was that it was time for the Simon solo spot and tonight we were treated to a storming version of “Sell Out”. During which Simon started off with one guitar, powered through what sounded very much like a bitten booming, took his guitar off while still singing, now unaccompanied (helped along by a slightly out of time crowd), put a new guitar on and motored through to the end of the song as if nothing had happened. The crowd went wild and justifiable so. The rest of the band reappeared to Simon’s ringing applause and Mark thanked him with the words “That was Simon and his invisible bass guitar”.
I think it was “The Boatman” next, or at least Mark on drums for “Crags Of Sterling” and then “The Boatman”.
A painted face appeared on stage and Stephen Boakes appeared for the didgeridoo warm up to “One Way”. The unexpected happened next in that everything stopped, Boaksey appeared to give Mark a cuddle, Mark jokingly announced that they’d all been on tour for three months and turned gay, while Boaksey gave Jeremy a kiss behind his back and Simon and John protested fervently that they hadn’t.
Good, funny stuff.
“One Way” got the same rapturous crowd reaction that it does every time it’s played, before Simon took over vocal duties again for “Men-An-Tol”.
A slightly over paced, to my ears, “ Hope Street ” followed. This seemed to slow down dramatically after the first verse as if Matt had realised they were going way to fast and slowed it down. It then seemed to be too slow, but it was good to hear it for a change and I enjoyed it, before being blasted into the excellent “Forgotten Ground”.
By the time the first notes of “Liberty Song” were struck even the most reserved people in the audience had been dragged screaming to the dance floor. There were people dancing in the balconies, in the aisles and on the dance floor. I was quite worried at one point by someone doing what appeared to be a one-armed salute, but this just turned out to be the warm up for a full on version of what appeared to be the chicken dance, which everyone around seemed to be much happier with.
Jeremy always seems at his best during “Liberty Song”, thumping his bass and adding his, seemingly random, backing vocals as if his life depended on it. A superb end to the gig and people started to drift towards the exit.
Then the band returned to the stage. I think it was at this point that Mark walked on with his lit cigarette and asked the audience “Is this a non-smoking venue?”. The crowd cheered and the security men looked annoyed. They looked even more annoyed seconds later as Mark threw his lighted cigarette to the eager inhabitants of the mosh pit.
The worlds most moving anti-war song “Another Man’s Cause” followed and charged up the emotion of the crowd for a blistering “Battle Of The Beanfield”, which ended superbly with Simon picking out a load of harmonics from his fret board.
“The Riverflow” finished us off nicely with Jeremy screaming “faster” all the way through.
But then the crowd knew it was going to be the end, the band was applauded off the stage and the fans headed for the exits.
Only to come dashing back in again, as the hardcore had waited, clapped and stamped for “What You Know”.
The Levellers re-appeared for “fiddle time”. John was accompanied by Athena from 3 Daft Monkeys and Mark announced that there were three members of 3DM’s on stage for the encore, one with a tambourine (I think) and one with what seemed to be penny whistle.
For me this was the best track of the night and they went out on a very big high. The “fiddle off” had no clear winner and got to such speeds that you wondered when, not whether, they were going to catch fire. And the penny whistle added that certain something that really made a full on sound. Everyone was enjoying themselves and there was no better way to end the gig.
(Approximate) Setlist; 100 Years Of Solitude / 15 Years / Last Man Alive / The Road / 61 Minutes Of Pleading / Invisible / What A Beautiful Day / Sell Out (Simon Solo) / The Boatman / One Way / Men-An-Tol / Hope Street / Forgotten Ground / Carry Me / The Game / Liberty Song / [Break] / Another Man's Cause / Battle Of The Beanfield / The Riverflow / [Break] / What You Know.
The views expressed in these reviews do not necessarily reflect those of the livemusicreview.co.uk team.
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