It's been a long wait for this show. The last time Rival Schools hit the UK was six years ago. Murmurs about it began on Ian Love's site, when he suggested reformation was in the offing last year, and it was going to start at the end of March. Well, he was a few months late, but after 72 of them, what's a few more between friends?
I've noticed the emo crowd building up all day long while I've been out and about, but it crystallizes at one point. For a brief moment as I walk out of Temple tube at half six, I'm transported back to 2002. There's a boy in a Jimmy Eat World t-shirt and shorts opposite the entrance. There's a young man sitting on the stairs wearing what appears to be some sort of Jawbreaker t-shirt. A group of friends are huddled together, backpacks, t-shirts, Converse, Vans, beaded bracelets, some boys wearing beards that have obviously taken several months to reach wispy downlike fruition. It's so 2002 I'm wondering if they should be talking about the final season of Buffy, and cursing God and the studios for letting Roswell die on its ass.
Of course, if it was 2002, Rival Schools would be the the hottest ticket in town. Tonight that honour is taken by Fleet Foxes over at ULU. The stiff competition is a bit of a moot point however, as Kings sold out within a week of the tickets going on sale. Rival Schools still have a solid live draw, despite only having one album and a handful of other tracks in their back catalogue of old. That album, 2001's United by Fate was such a classic debut, and their tenure so brief last time that they got missed by quite a few people who wanted to see them. I missed them last time. No-one, including me, wants to miss them this time around.
I'm worrying on the way to the venue. How will they work a 90 minute set out from that one album? I add up the tracks in my head, plan a setlist, think they'll throw in a couple from the new old album, work out potential covers (Quicksand, Smiths). I think about the crowd. Will they all be in their late twenties and early thirties, or will there be a few whipper-snappers in there (this is a 14+ show)? Will this just be a big jaggy hit of short term nostalgia?
Catching the tail end of the first band, a straight hardcore mob called This City roughing up an unresponsive crowd, I hit the bar upstairs at Kings. It's a great place for a drink, as the venue itself is four floors up, and given the extra two storeys added by the stairs, the bar is situated six floors above London. With KCLSU being well positioned by the Thames the views are very good, especially at night. Note it in your lizard brain: this is a good place to take a date.
The first band end, and a few minutes later, the other support, The Computers come on. They have a sense of fun over the speakers in the bar, so I wander downstairs to give them a quick look. O.K, in the inspiration stakes, they lack any real invention, but they are a poppy emo-lite band, and they're incredibly tight. Their main man is a good guitarist, and although there are no Pete Friesen foot on the monitor fret displays, he is enjoying playing to a packed room. He does a really sweet hammer on barre chord trick, and catches me checking out his chops. There is eye contact. I give him a wink. He laughs. Their drummer beats away in spastic syncopation, keeping time immaculately while giving the impression that he could at any moment go into seizure. It's a neat trick. They thank the headliners, and get better than polite applause when they leave the stage. They're aware that they're not the star turn tonight, but gave it a decent go.
I've got a little sportsman's bet that Rival Schools will open with 'Everything has its point'. They don't, and pull 'Travel by Telephone' to start off with, then the equally solid but faster 'High Acetate'. Almost everyone is singing along. And the show heats up. People dancing, arms flailing. Holy shit, is that some sort of mosh pit? Haven't seen one of those in a long while. We're glad they're back, and they're glad to be back. They're smiles all round, and When Walter takes a break to introduce Ian Love (who left the band to form Cardia), there's a distinct sense that all wrongs have been reversed, grudges settled, and they're back for the long haul again.
Realistically, that can't happen; the members are all mid thirties now, with family commitments, and other bands on the go. But in my head I see a path to glory for them, and epic levels of achievement. They joke about the six year wait for their next album, and new songs like 'Paranoid Detective' and 'Sophia Loren', while being more straight forward indie rock definitely have potential to spark a revival in their fortunes. There'd been talk of the "old" new album being overdubbed and remixed before being released, but as far as I know, two of the three new songs are brand new. They definitely sound fresh. It would be a shame not to re-record them properly with a line up that really wants to deliver a good record, rather than rehashing old pre-break up material. Hopefully, we'll get the former option.
As the set progresses we get the majority of United by Fate, and a quizzical but decent cover of 'How soon is now?' that dispenses with the jangling guitar line and instead serves it up as all American prime guitar beef. They've been rehearsing heavily for this tour, and it shows. Despite the love for their album, their reputation as a hit and miss live band has lingered on as long as the fond memory of their songs. Tonight they vanquish those old tales, and are as tight as a drum. 'Good things' is the single we get before the encore break, and at the end of the night we get, predictably but fittingly 'Used for glue'. The entire crowd knows it word for word, note perfect. Walter gets the now bouncing choir to sing him home, and is almost drowned out at points.
A great show then, and with any luck a sign of things to come for them. If Rival schools really were united by fate somehow, I can only dare hope they've been re-united by destiny.
Photo Credit: 333Bracket. See other great photos from the Rival Schools show here