All the way back in February 2001, at London’s famous Astoria Theatre, At the Drive-In played what was to be their last UK show for over a decade. Not long afterwards, the remaining tour dates were cancelled and the band announced an indefinite hiatus. Even during the subsequent years of inactivity, At the Drive-In’s status as post-hardcore legends continuously grew as their music inspired countless other bands.
It wasn’t until 2012 that they finally reformed for a handful of gigs culminating in a massive show at Brixton Academy. Nearly 6 years and a long-awaited new album later, they returned to the iconic venue for the first show of a UK headline tour in March. As if any further incentive was needed for people to be there, the El Paso band were joined by two great supports in the form of Mexican band Le Butcherettes and Toronto’s Death From Above.
Sadly we weren’t able to make it in time to see Le Butcherettes, but the superb set from Death From Above more than made up for it. This may sound cliche, but it’s genuinely amazing how big a sound two people can make. The pair easily filled the cavernous Academy with huge songs like ‘Freeze Me’ and ‘Trainwreck 1979’ and it’s easy to imagine them doing so in even larger venues than this. In an era when fellow two-piece Royal Blood are topping the charts and playing arenas, there’s no reason why the Canadian duo shouldn’t be doing the same.
Given how few UK headline shows At the Drive-In have played (this was only their third since reforming in 2012) it was no surprise to see the 5,000-capacity venue practically bursting with people desperate to see them play. The excitement reached fever pitch as the lights dimmed and the band launched into the unmistakable intro of ‘Arcarsenal’, the opening track from their iconic 2000 album Relationship of Command. From the moment the song’s breakneck riff kicked in, singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala began prancing around the stage and twirling his mic around like a nunchuk. These antics continued throughout the set, as the band powered through energetic numbers like ‘No Wolf Like the Present’ and ‘Hostage Stamps’.
Though still enjoyable to watch, it’s clear that much of Cedric’s (and the rest of the band’s) youthful energy has dissipated in the 17+ years since their heyday. Fans expecting the same levels of chaotic performance (as seen here) may have been disappointed, but instead they witnessed a version of At the Drive-In that has matured, streamlined and cut down on the drugs. This meant tighter, more accurate renditions of the songs and a greater focus on their technical musicianship. This was especially apparent on slower songs such as ‘Napoleon Solo’ or ‘Quarantined’, both spellbinding highlights of the concert.
Despite several tracks from latest album In•ter a•li•a making an appearance, nearly half of the setlist was taken from the seminal Relationship of Command and unsurprisingly it’s these songs which garnered the biggest crowd reaction. Bixler-Zavala hardly needed to sing at times, so enthusiastic were the crowd in singing along to classics like ‘Pattern Against User’, ‘Invalid Litter Dept.’ and of course the inimitable ‘One Armed Scissor’. With the last notes of the latter still ringing in our ears it’s time to leave and we’re left thinking about what the future might hold for At the Drive-In. Death From Above are still going strong and making multiple new albums post-reunion, so hopefully At the Drive-In can too. If, however, they decide to call it quits again at least we (and a few thousand other lucky people) can say that we got the chance to see this truly special band before it was too late.