It might only have been four years since hardcore punk troupe At the Drive-In visited the UK, but there is a new air of sentimentality as the band talk about and reflect more upon their miniscule Camden Barfly concerts sixteen years ago. Or perhaps that air stems more directly from the crowd, as a beaming Cedric Bixler-Zavala notes after his crowd-surfing tour of the venue floor – “You smell good! What are you wearing?”.
The rug was tugged from beneath fans who expected and wanted to see At the Drive-In in 2016, when just a week ago came the announcement that guitarist Jim Ward had decided not to participate. Worries about overly high expectations for a possibly incomplete band, weren’t going to be prevented by the gripping energy of tonight’s supporting garage punks Le Butcherettes. Frontwoman Teri Gender Bender had been blitzing between two microphones (although she had often taken it upon herself just to scream without their help), stopping only to contort her body in ways that nobody thought humanly possible, using her keyboard for both balance, just as much as she was noise.
Luckily this served not to upstage the main event, but as a warm-up, perhaps even a warning for the carnage about to be unleashed upon the sold out London Roundhouse. What follows is seventy-five minutes of havoc that anyone uninformed of Cedric and company might not have expected, having introduced themselves before furious opener ‘Arcarsenal’, with a calm “good morning”.
Cedric climbs upon and jumps from just about everything onstage that will take his weight, making him very difficult to lose. He ends ‘300MHz’ entangled in leads and triumphantly holding a cymbal above his head that he had stolen from drummer Tony Hajjar, presumably because his microphone stand was too far away to pick up and throw. It is also warming to see an energetic Omar Rodriguez-Lopez looking immersed in whatever unusual noise he was getting out of his guitar, especially after rumours of him not being very enthusiastic during the band’s 2012 shows.
The night can be defined efficiently by its last ten minutes, beginning with a deadly serious talk on great women and their rights by Cedric (“I hope you all have a woman like that in your lives”), and a performance of the solemn ‘Napoleon Solo’. Straight afterwards comes humorous analogies (“we came here to spread our disease. We are so glad you caught it”) and an enraged finale rendition of ‘One Armed Scissor’. This form of the show is more erratic and difficult to keep track of than Cedric, and fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
There is no encore, and in spite of promoting this tour as the start of a new era of At the Drive-In, there is no new material tonight. However, considering how their set was based around their last album, 2000’s seminal Relationship of Command, this goes to show that the band have picked up well from exactly the triumphant state that they had left off, having undergone a sixteen-year-long recharging session. With a release of energy so solid, and a crowd so shattered, nobody will feel short-changed.