Let’s start this review with a sweeping generalisation; most of the crowd at The Academy in Leeds on Thursday night remember Levelling The Land from the first time round.
I don’t. I was five. But hell, I still feel qualified to say The Levellers are in the form of their lives.
Unlike the raft of 80s and 90s bands that have reformed and taken old albums back on the road, The Levellers are markedly different.
Why? Because Levelling The Land could have been written yesterday; the socio-political relevance of the songs means as much, if not more, today as it did when it first hit a despondent and dispossessed British public in 1991.
The social relevance of the album was outlined before the band had even struck a chord in anger; the big screen lit up by a video snapshot of life in 1991 and since (take a bow, Mrs Thatcher). As lead singer Mark Chadwick said: “If anything the political situation is worse now than it was then - I think everyone’s waking up to quite a grim world right now.”
If the excitement was palpable when you entered the room, it was positively electric when the video ended, the lights flashed, and the band strode onto stage.
From the opening chord of ‘One Way’ right through to the last note of ‘Beautiful Day’ this was a one and a half hour showcase of a band at their best - revitalised and reinvigorated by the world around them, and by an audience crying out for musical revolutionaries.
This was the fullest I’ve ever seen Leeds Academy, and like many of the other gigs on this tour, it was a complete sell-out.More than 20 years as a powerful lead singer hasn’t altered Chadwick’s voice; this isn’t shouting and screaming, Chadwick is a powerful articulator who brings the words to life. Bass guitarist Jeremy was also clearly enjoying himself, failing epically to keep his dreadlocked hair in check.
I had thought the equally retro support band The Wonder Stuff had the most snappily-dressed fiddler I’d ever seen, but she was put in the shade by Jon Sevink, in his ringmaster’s hat and stripy shirt.
Four songs in, the band disappeared and out came a top-hat-wearing, clown-faced, didgeridoo player. Slightly odd. But after this brief musical interlude normal service was soon resumed.
‘Another Man’s Cause’ was written about the Falklands but could just as well refer to any of the conflicts we’ve experienced in the last ten years and is all the more poignant with the shadow of possible military action in Libya hanging over the country..
The chorus to ‘Carry Me’ (‘Well I'll carry you, If you'll carry me, carry me, carry me, friend’) summed up this gig, band and audience, all on a wave of shared musical enjoyment.
The band avoided the repeated cries for ‘Julie’ - a story of council house misery - but did play the wonderfully evocative ‘Hope Street’.
‘Cholera Well’ was the penultimate song, taken from their last album, ‘Letters From The Underground’, probably their most political album since Levelling The Land.
Hearing Chadwick belting out the line: “Senator come take my hand, feel the flames you have fanned” really gives you some idea of what this band are all about.
Music - like politics - is supposed to be cyclical, so you could be forgiven for thinking the world outside is much as it was in 1991.
Maybe that’s why, on this evidence, The Levellers are far from done. They’re simply getting stronger.