Levellers @ The Barbican Centre

Levellers @ The Barbican Centre, York 16.11.02
The anti-globalisation issue is supposed to have mobilised the world's youth against Ronald McDonald and tyrannical suit wearers everywhere. If this truly is the case the Levellers should expect to be rivaling Kylie for worldwide exposure (although the idea of any of the Lev's baring their bottoms to boost record sales is horrifying). Instead they are struggling to even get their single played on hospital radio and tonight's gig has failed to sell out at a venue that is considerably smaller than those they filled on previous tours.

The band's enforced absence from the nation's consciousness is all the more surprising when they are such an enjoyable live act. They have passion, sing-along sloganeering choruses and pop hooks big enough to land a whale. The Levellers reduced circumstances have no negative impact on the gig, only seeming to make the crowd more determined to retain the celebratory spirit of previous tours. The band and the audience are all looking a little chunkier than the last tour, more than ever lead singer Mark Chadwick resembles what David Essex would look like if he undertook the Guinness and pie diet. Although his paunch is unlikely to concern a band that has steadfastly refused to make any image concessions in order to achieve greater commercial success.

Levellers @ www.contactmusic.com
Levellers  @ www.contactmusic.com
Tonight's gig demonstrates how the Levellers have been cheated out of a more respected place in rock history. This is largely due to the way critics responded to the release of 1991's magnificent 'Levelling the Land', being more concerned about how the band's crusty image was so out of kilter with Madchester cool, rather than the quality of the tunes. Sensibly the set list is evenly split between songs from that classic album and from new release 'Green Blade Rising'. Performed live, 'One Way' destroys any apathy generated from the song having been played at every indie club night for the past eleven years. Even without the didgeridoo being wheeled out for the song opening it was still greeted with religious fervour by the audience. 'The Game' is a frenzy of fiddling (definitely not a reference to the lack of personal space in the mosh pit) and is a perfect demonstration of the Levellers song writing formula. Each verse increases the tension of the tune until it explodes into the communal karaoke of the chorus. 'The Road' is the definition of jaunty, lyrically Chadwick conjures scenes of carefree revelry which are then replicated in the room as the crowd bellows along to the apt refrain "the words that you heard made the world go away". The new songs are lyrically uninspired, but they do demonstrate that the Levellers have rediscovered the melodies that temporarily deserted them on previous album 'Hello Pig'. Separated by standout tracks from past albums and passionately performed to an enthusiastic audience, singles 'Come On' and 'Wild as Angels' sound less trite than on record and more like the rallying cries they were intended to be.

Tonight the Levellers prove that while their albums (excluding 'Levelling the Land') are inconsistent, they have recorded plenty of singles over the past decade to fill a ninety-minute live set. This is especially evident during the encore as men old enough to know better are roused to defy gravity and medical advice by launching into a pixie dancing frenzy to the pop majesty of 'Beautiful Day'.

Gavin Eves