On a beautiful summer evening in the middle of London, Anti-Flag were about to play at the London Astoria, and perhaps the most memorable scenes on the streets outside weren't the punks, the goths, the mohawks, etc. etc…it was what wasn't there. No ticket touts, no weirdos pushing illegal shirts and very, very few doormen. The reason for this? Surprisingly, the show didn't sell out; in fact, numbers were so few that they shut down the upstairs part and cut down on staff! At first, I thought this was a shame for one of the most outspoken and long-standing punk bands ever to not "sell out." But then, I think most of the people who came to see Anti-Flag saw it as a bonus; after all, it is rare that you get to see a band like that in such an intimate setting, even if the night might have been better suited at a venue like Shepherds Bush or the Garage.
The support band sucked, no two ways about it. They sucked so much that they failed to illicit any response whatsoever from the crowd other than slight applause at the end of their set, and they sucked so much I couldn't be bothered to find out their name. Of course, for any punk band, sharing the stage with Anti-Flag is a tall order; you must respect them for having had the privilege and giving it their best.
As soon as they left, the crowd really started to get psyched, and the chants for Anti-Flag grew louder and louder, which was surprising as Justin Sane had managed to really, really piss off half the crowd before they entered the door with a "completely no smoking policy." There were some grumpy, nicotine-starved faces floating through the corridors that night, but luckily (well, lucky for me, anyway) most of the crowd were punk enough not to give a damn and light up anyway. The lyrics "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me!" drifted about all night, and I'd like to think that Justin Sane respected the fact that people chose to do what they wanted rather than what they were told. But I doubt it…
As for strange requests from the band, I was talking to the owners/promoters of the venue about the band's stay, only to find them jaded and fed up with some admittedly strange requests. I knew the band were all vegan, but it turns out they also have a thing for cheese! Apparently decaf coffee, cheese, tofu and a strange taste in DVDs were at the top of the band's long list of requests that included no smoking during their performance. The main guy in charge of hospitality said "You wouldn't believe some of the stuff we had to buy them!"
The band wandered on stage as if lost, only to receive a massive cheer before they broke into a tight and fast set. Often the songs flowed nicely into each other, but every three or four songs they stopped to talk to the audience, which you don't see bands do that often these days. What did they talk about? Well, what do you expect from one of the most politically-charged anti-establishment bands on the planet? "Mind The G.A.T.T." was followed by a vicious rant aimed at Tony Blair and George Bush, where Chris exclaimed that "this next song is a message for Tony Blair, George Bush and all the politicians who only care about greed and money, they don't care about us!" before breaking into "One People, One Struggle." The speeches kept coming throughout the night and any mention of Tony Blair or George Bush was greeted with a prolonged jeer from the crowd, which only excited the band into greater and more venomous rants, which although meaningful were still highly entertaining.
Chris also had something to say about the crowd; looking out into the venue you couldn't help but see a large and random collection of all-ages punks. "We've got the numbers -- it doesn't matter what colour, creed, sexuality or whatever you are -- we're all here to have a good time!" Judging from the constant enthusiasm and the mosh pit, which was much larger than usual for the Astoria, it seems that the crowd really were enjoying themselves.
We were lucky enough to get some insight as well as some previews of the new album that Anti-Flag is currently working on. Justin Sane explained that the overriding message of the new album was one of disbelief and a loss of faith in the governments that went to war in Iraq, particularly highlighting the lack of WMD as their main grievance. "There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Saddam is no more of a threat to us now than he was then!" Justin explained that the message of the new album was that "we could not believe those mother-fuckers then and we won't believe them now!" The highlight of the new material was "Antithetic To The Cure" (which is also available to download from their website) which sounded amazing live with a trademark wandering bass line that kept the song rolling while Justin delivered more chants for the crowd to follow along with. Before playing the song, Chris #2 told the crowd that the song was for "those of you who don't wanna fight for the George Bush / Tony Blair war machine!" and demanding that the crowd start a big circle and "fight!" before adding "and then afterwards you should all give each other a big kiss!" The crowd responded to the irony with style, but I must say I didn't see too much communal love afterwards, but all the same the crowd appreciated it.
Other highlights were a brilliant rendition of "Underground Network," which was "a song about an idea, in our heads and in our hearts" (Justin Sane), and a fast-paced "911 For Peace." The interval didn't last long at all, and a lightning fast "Death Of A Nation" got the crowd going again very quickly; however, the best song of the set, the one everyone had been waiting for all night, was also the last. Chris told the crew to put the lights up over the crowd and yelled "look at these people, you know what?" before shouting "You're all gonna die for your government!"
If anyone could take a bunch of London punks who were pissed off at a "no-smoking policy" and turn that anger towards the government while working them into a frenzy in the process, it would have to be Anti-Flag, and massive respect for them sticking to their convictions, even if that meant pissing off 500 punks! A very good, tight show of some of the band's greatest work, even if I was a little disappointed at the lack of "Seattle Was A Riot" in their set list, which would have worked brilliantly after they mentioned the protests in London before the Iraq war. But, all said, I was very impressed.