The Boxer Rebellion at Whelan's by Sean Smyth (10-2-14) (22 of 26)-banner

The Boxer Rebellion at Whelan’s, Dublin, 10th February 2014

Despite creating four albums worth of polished, radio friendly rock music over the course of the last decade, mainstream success has, as yet, remained elusive for The Boxer Rebellion. And while label difficulties and bad luck have done the band no favours in their quest for the big time, Mondays set in Whelan’s suggested that it’s more than just misfortune that’s holding this band back.

Things beginning positively; set opener The Runner sounds fantastic with the live setting suiting the song. While on record it feels polished and overcooked, tonight it sounds raw and uncompromising. The same applies to the vocals; in the flesh and free from studio trickery singer Nathan Nicholson sounds much more abrasive. The impressive start continues with the band stacking the opening proceedings with their stronger material. Semi matches the opener in terms of intensity, the rhythm section really coming to the fore on this one. Take Me Back sees the band take a step in the opposite direction, an 80’s style electro romp with Nicholson doing an admirable falsetto on vocals. Step Out Of My Car completes the opening quarter which with its widescreen sound and skyscraper chorus deserves to be played in a bigger setting.

The impressive opening salvo doesn’t last though with the gig quickly descending into mediocrity; a fact that’s illustrated by an almost constant stream of people heading to the bar. The problem lies in the complete lack of variety on show with the band seemingly happy to alternate between overcooked ballads (No Harm, New York) and soaring textured rock epics (Spitting Fire, The Absentee, Low). It doesn’t make for the most engaging of listening experiences and it’s not helped by the band’s lack of interaction with an indifferent crowd.

Just as the gig veers towards staggering levels of  blandness, the band pull a rabbit out of the hat with another fleeting display of brilliance. Keep Moving and Watermelon are another pair of radio friendly anthems that bring to mind The National at their sweeping, majestic best .The improvement in quality spills into the encore with the set closer The Gospel of Goro Adachi being the pick of the night; a slow burner that builds to a massive grandiloquent crescendo.

A frankly disappointing set in which the sporadic moments of class were outweighed by an overbearing level of mediocrity, tonight illustrated why this band have yet to cross over into the mainstream.  They simply do not have the back catalogue to match the likes of The National or Kings of Leon. Unless the band really up their game on their next album, this won’t change either as for now The Boxer Rebellion are a long way from being the stadium rock behemoths they aspire to be.

The Boxer Rebellion Photo Gallery

Photos: Sean Smyth