"We just wanted you to know", barks Jim into the microphone ahead of the last song, "that we consider this to be the last show of the Relationship of Command tour. It only took us twelve years to finish..."
Twelve years ago, At the Drive-In suddenly went on indefinite hiatus ahead of their biggest ever headline tour. Undoubtedly, it would have thrust them into mainstream consciousness at a time when guitar music was undergoing something of a resurgence. But a combination of drugs, egos and musical differences meant that they vanished with barely a word, leaving many of us to wonder why and what-if. Other projects followed, but post-hardcore's most enigmatic band remained the definition of cult.
Back in the early noughties, At the Drive-In represented the epitome of cool to me, being everything that I wasn't. They lived in El Paso, Texas, surrounded by desert and drug-runners and got their kicks by skipping the border into Mexico. I lived in a semi-detached house in Sussex surrounded by fields and middle-class families and got my kicks by popping into Brighton. They produced music that was angry and intellectual in equal measure. I carried around a biography of Chairman Mao and never read more than the first two pages. They had cool Afros and glasses. I had acne. I read everything I could about them in the music press and played their albums at an ear-bleeding volume that would cause my mother to yell up the stairs. But I never got to see them. Earlier this year, they announced with fairly little fanfare that they would be reforming for a tour as a nostalgia thing and tonight's show represents the final night of that tour.
I have been waiting twelve years for this gig...And it proves to be worth the wait in every sense.
And so it is that I have been waiting twelve years for this gig as well. And it proves to be worth the wait in every sense. The noise that greets the band as they walk onto the stage is deafening and, with a shout of "Good morning Miami", they tear into opener Arcarsenal. It becomes instantly clear that, although I may have aged twelve years, At the Drive-In have somehow avoided doing so. They look a little older, but the raw power of their performance hasn't dropped even a fraction. Lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala leaps around the stage as though being electrocuted and flings the microphone and stand about as though determined to destroy both. The crowd goes mad, the pit is a writhing mass of bodies which extends over the entire Academy floor. Two songs in, my glasses are knocked from my face and so the rest of the gig is a literal and metaphorical blur.
The setlist is drawn from right across the band's career, dipping back as far as 1999's Vaya EP for cuts such as Metronome Arthritis and a beautiful rendition of the down-tempo 198d. But the main bulk of the set comes from their best-loved and final LP Relationship of Command. There is no outing for Invalid Litter Dept. as there has been on previous nights of this tour, but hardcore classics such as Enfilade and Sleepwalk Capsules more than make up for this. Set-closer Cosmonaut is drawn out into an epic that proves that punk and psychedelia can co-exist. The coda leaves the crowd almost on its knees, not noticing that the band has left the stage for about ten seconds.
Returning for a two-song encore, Cedric stares out into the sea of adoring, screaming faces. Lifting the microphone he begins to sing the refrain from The Smiths' That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore: "I've seen this happen, in other people's lives / And now it's happening in mine...." That about sums it up. The final song, a rendition of One Armed Scissor which causes the last remaining threads of my vocal cords to dissolve, is dedicated to Steve Lamacq to thank him for launching their career. Tonight I think the whole crowd would agree: he did us all a massive favour.
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