All of a sudden, things are moving very fast for The Boxer Rebellion. Though the London band won a Playlouder competition in 2003 and got to play the Glastonbury Festival that year, their 2005 debut full-length Exits failed to blow up. But this year, the now-unsigned band self-released their sophomore effort, Union (QRO review), on iTunes, and it shot to #4 in the U.K. charts (or rather, would have, had Billboard counted it – it was left off because there was no physical release). And on Thursday & Friday, April 23rd & 24th, the band played their first three U.S. shows, first at The Troubadour in L.A., then two at Mercury Lounge in New York. While the early (7:30 PM) Thursday show was likely stuffed with industry types (as early shows at Mercury often are – QRO venue review), the late (11:30 PM scheduled – started after midnight) Friday night gig was packed with exited fans.
Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Nathan Nicholson acknowledged the superiority of Friday, but other than that, and joking that a couple of songs were their “make-out” songs, and another was their attempt at country, he seemed a little nervous and reticent. But the crowd was certainly receptive, appreciating not just Union material but Exits as well (about sixty/forty, Union/Exits, and only once doing more than two from the same album in a row – QRO set list photo). Just as Exits isn’t as strong as Union, set openers “Flashing Red Light Means Go” and “Forces” from Union did outshine the following “We Have the Place Surrounded” and “Lay Me Down” (“Our make-out song”), but the expansive “Flashing” & “Forces” are two of Union’s best.
The Boxer Rebellion playing "Lay Me Down" live at Mercury Lounge in New York, NY on April 24th, 2009:
But Union really brought the show back in the middle, with excellent versions of its two darker presses, “Semi Automatic” and single “Evacuate”. The latter was particularly superior live than on record, and “Spitting Fire” kept that up by improving on its Brit-rock stance. But this isn’t to knock Exits – one of the strongest songs of the night was the first album’s “All You Do Is Talk” and its harder rock.
The Boxer Rebellion playing "Evacuate" live at Mercury Lounge in New York, NY on April 24th, 2009:
The tonal change from “Talk” to The Boxer Rebellion’s self-admitted stab at a country song, Union’s “Soviets” (geographically, they were pretty far off the mark…), was a little stark, but the sad sweetness held up all the same. The sudden move didn’t hurt again with Union’s quicker “These Walls Are Thin”, but did catch up with the band when they downshifted for Exits’s “Silent Movie”.
The Boxer Rebellion playing "Soviets" live at Mercury Lounge in New York, NY on April 24th, 2009:
Eschewing any encore & return (which would have been tough at the stuffed wall-to-wall Mercury), The Boxer Rebellion returned in “Flight”, Exits’s grandly dark, almost metal in outlook track. Paired with the closing “Watermelon”, there is a blacker side to The Boxer Rebellion that can be seen as left out on Exits – but the band did split those two up with Union’s “Misplaced”, “our make-out song – two”.
The Boxer Rebellion playing "Watermelon" live at Mercury Lounge in New York, NY on April 24th, 2009:
But whatever the case, The Boxer Rebellion won’t stay unsigned for long, and certainly will be seeing more of America.