It was only November 17’ when At the Drive In last graced Birmingham with their presence supporting Royal Blood. Tonight though, everyone is here for them, headlining the main room at the Institute, with the place practically sold out.
Le Butcherettes have the honours of getting the evening underway, and they came out with a bang. A three-piece Mexican punk band from Guadalajara fronted by Teri Gender Bender, it doesn’t take long to realise this isn’t going to be your average set. Dressed in Khaki overalls, with her somewhat trademarked red streak across her face, her vocals are harsh, fiery and full of attitude. The room was surprisingly full by the end of the Le Butcherettes set, and they definitely have to take a nice slice of credit for this fact.
Death from Above are next up, a band member down from the openers, a two-piece from Canada, originally formed in 2001, these guys were kinda’ doing that Royal Blood thing, before Royal Blood were Royal Blood, or had even left school. Just like you’d expect being a two-piece with drums and a bass, they make a big noise, in no part thanks to the 4 huge Orange cabs Sebastian’s bass is being fed through. Vocals coming from Jesse on drums, they have a deep heavy sound with a lovely synth overlay to give their literal two dimensional sounds some added depth. Ignoring the one impressively drunk member of the crowd screaming ‘AT THE F**KING DRIVE IN!’ continuously to which Jesse replied, ‘we are the opener, if you don’t like it, maybe go away and come back in a little bit’, (I may be paraphrasing there a little).
DFA1979’s set was wrapped up after playing fan favourite Freeze Me with Jesse’s bass screaming feedback and Sebastian’s drum sticks being launched in the air. This set was enjoyed and well received. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready for a change towards the end, but that probably says more about my level of excitement for At the Drive In than anything else.
The next 20 or so minutes were taken up with set change over, and an extra special appearance from the aforementioned drunk lady. Her non-stop screaming about how much money she had paid to watch At the Drive In, where the f**k were At The Drive In, How long were At the Drive In taking….. I could go on, I won’t. It was like a crap half-time show that no one wanted to witness. A special mention for the poor guy she was leaning up against that looked like there was a million and one other places he would rather have been at that point in his life. Chin up man. All good things come to those who wait though….
Tonight, is the first time as a photographer I have ever been warned by someone from the headline acts entourage to watch out for flying microphone stands and possible risk of strangulation by mic leads. His concern was that real that he stayed in the pit primed, ready to untangle us all. He was clearly worried about someone getting ‘Josh Homme’d’ in the pit, it turned out this was a much-needed warning. No more than 60 seconds had passed before 6 photographers were wrangled with a microphone lead via their necks. I knew then we were in for a good set.
Tonight’s headline set was littered with songs from 2000’s critically acclaimed album Relationship of Command, and so it should be. It’s a gem that has weathered exceptionally well. It’s difficult for bands to grow old gracefully in these kind of music genres, it’s a bit cringe sometimes watching a 40 something screaming songs of late teen/early twenties angst and hate. I never felt that level of cringe tonight though. Cedric moves around the stage with insane amounts of energy and captivates the audience. You get the feeling the rest of ATDI just leave him to it these days, he comes out, all guns blazing, screaming, jumping and doing his trademark microphone moves. All eyes are on Cedric, whilst the rest of the band just focus on doing what they do. Tonight’s set doesn’t sound like its being played by a band that released their first album in 1996, this says as much about their technical ability, as it does their skill in song writing and energy in performing.
When One Armed Scissor starts a small scale exodus is initiated from the upper stalls of people wanting to do their bit in the pit, I’ll admit I kept looking at the bag full of cameras on my shoulder calculating their likelihood of survival if I joined in. Napoleon Solo from ATDI’s second album In/Casino/Out marks a momentary shift in the evening, slowing things slightly, the lights get dreamier, the crowd takes a breather, but it’s only a slight shift in the momentum. Written about two friends that were killed in a car accident just 17 years old, the song is powerful and still carries a lot of weight twenty years later, and you feel this in the crowd.
I’ve waited a long time to see ATDI live, circumstances always got in the way before. Tonight’s set isn’t vintage At the Drive In. How could it ever be, much changes in twenty years, this doesn’t mean that their set is any less worthwhile, or meaningful.
Tonight they sounded good, really good. I won’t be waiting that long to see them again.
Photos & Review: Marc Osborne