Mandella Hall has been curtained off, leaving two large areas of the floor unused by the crowd. My first thoughts are, “This is going to be an intimate gig”. What an understatement.
Fans of pop-punk and punk alike fill the venue. I personally cannot remember when I last saw so many Ramones t-shirts worn genuinely. Tonight, they are once again donned by the fans rather than the fashion conscious. This includes not one but two members of the first band to take the stage. Belfast’s own pop-punk heroes No Matter prove the importance of making it to gigs for doors. With impressive three part harmonies, some badass bass and a sound that pays tribute to the Ramones themselves (with a sprinkle of Green Day for good measure) they bring both energy and a sense of fun to the venue. Next on the line-up is Runnin’ Riot, a Belfast band in every sense. Not only are they from the city but they are the city. With an Oi! punk vibe the band tell tales from their microcosmic community, covering political issues on a local basis and personal experiences alike.
The microphone is then metaphorically passed from Belfast to Pittsburgh. As part of their twenty year anniversary tour, Anti-Flag grace our shores for what they recall to be the first time in a long time. Six years has certainly proved too long for the city as well. As a result the crowd laps up the punk band’s energy with an almost rabid fervour. During the second song, “Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington D.C.” (The People or the Gun, 2009), Chris “No. 2” Barker has to stop the music mid-flow to intervene in a mosh pit which is encompassing the majority of the venue. But it’s not as you might think; “Hey, you, guy in the security shirt. Could you go over there somewhere?” he politely inquires. Security graciously heeds the request. He urges the crowd to start a circle pit but look after one another so everyone can enjoy themselves. Punk rock is alive and well.
Before Justin Sane starts back where the band left of, Chris #2 again interrupts proceedings to move on to “Broken Bones” (The General Strike, 2012) for a bigger and better pit. The show (and moshing) goes on. The band blaze through a set list which encompasses their twenty year back catalogue with the biggest reactions being given to singles like “Turncoat” (The Terror State, 2003) and “Trillion Dollars” (For Blood and Empire, 2006).
Mandella Hall is a scene of controlled and respectful mayhem which proves that violence should have no place in music. This is a message Anti-Flag have endorsed in their songs for twenty years. As the moshers link arms before opening up the pit, the band applaud the impromptu show of solidarity.
Instead of what Chris #2 calls the “theatrics” of the typical encore set up, Anti-Flag simply stay on stage, belting out The Clash’s “Police on My Back” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” at the crowd’s request.
The band close with “Power to the Peaceful” (The Terror State, 2003). This occurs not before they literally take the final step in breaking down the barriers between crowd and band. Pat Thetic’s drum kit is passed across the stage, over the barrier and onto the floor amongst an awe-stricken audience. He plays this final song from this perch, joined by Chris #2 who takes his place atop the bass drum. If that’s not punk rock, I don’t know what is.
“It’s nice to be in a room full of people I can trust” says Chris #2. Anti-Flag have certainly earned the trust of the crowd. There is only one thing that can be said back, “The feeling is mutual”. Laura Shields, GiggingNI.com