I must have seen her face before
I fell in love when I was born
Now they hide her with a whisper
If I were to list out all the bands that I’ve ever seen live and list them in accordance to how many times I’ve dragged my ass down to some dive of a venue to see them, RX Bandits would proudly sit atop that list. Since my introduction to them back when they were just a politicized 3rd wave ska act through their growth into one of the most forward thinking acts in modern music I’ve had the honor to see them one shy of a dozen times – but it was the last two shows, two of their last three shows ever (and last in the vicinity of their southern California home) that proudly affirm how special they really are/were. Their sets at the Mayan Theater in the heart of downtown Los Angeles and two days later at the Glasshouse a half hour inland in Pomona made the previous 9 RX Bandits shows that I have attended seem reserved in comparison, which is no easy feat.
Part 1: August 4th, 2011 @ the Mayan Theater
Shows at the Mayan are always a mixed bag. On one hand the size of the venue and its stunning décor that looks ripped straight out of the intro scene of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark add a remarkable ambiance and flair to any concert, but this is all an afterthought once the show starts and the usual shoddy and half assed mixed starts running through the house PA. That night was no different, but where the venue’s sound guy lacked the crowd was more than happy to step up to the challenge. Every song that the RX Bandits played was sung back to them at top of one thousand lungs. Their set was culled pretty much evenly from their last four albums and was played in chronological order with the exception of the band opening with “In Her Drawer” from 2006’s …And the Battle Begun. At every turn singer Matt Embree reminded the audience just how special this run of shows was for them, as if he was just as sad about the finality of it all creeping closer and closer with each passing night and each passing song. The crowd obliged his sentiments, although when he took a jab at crowd surfers early on in the night and reminded the audience again that there was “no reason to be an asshole in a reggae song” during “Apparition” it seemed to fall on deaf ears because a song later the same five or six bodies resumed passing over heads to the front every 30 seconds until the end of the set. That didn’t stop the floor of the Mayan from turning into a dance off during many of the slower songs from The Resignation and …And the Battle Begun like “Dinna Dawg” and the aforementioned “Apparition”.
After an hour and half of dubby prog-punk jams it seemed as if the energy level had reached its apex but during the near 15 minute encore performance of “Only For the Night” it only seemed to build as Matt Embree and Steve Choi traded off solos that eventually broke into a percussive jam of a drum circle before building back into the song’s resounding climax. After the house lights came back on it took a while for everything to set in while equal sized hordes flew to the exits and the merch table respectively, but once outside the look on most peoples faces was bittersweet, knowing that this was the last chance they would have to see the RX Bandits.
1. In Her Drawer
2. VCG III
3. Consequential Apathy
5. Sell You Beautiful
6. Dinna Dawg
8. …And the Battle Begun
10. My Lonesome Only Friend
11. It’s Only Another Parsec
12. Bring Our Children Home or Everything Is Nothing
14. Only For the Night
Part 2: August 6th, 2011 @ the Glasshouse
As RXB took the stage at the Glasshouse for what was their last southern California show, it was instantly obvious that tonight was the night that they were pulling out all the stops, as joining them on stage was something that has been absent at RX Bandits shows for the last couple of years: a brass section. They were instantly put to good use as the show opened in the same manner as it had two days before at the Mayan with “In Her Drawer” before going into some fan favorites from 2001’s Progress, but it wasn’t until the outro of “Infection” when it hit how bare these songs have sounded live since the departure of Chris Sheets a few years ago. This was the way RX Bandits was meant to be heard. The setlist was similar to that at the Mayan but the mood was completely different. Where the Mayan crowd was like a quick blast of energy, at the Glasshouse it felt as though the crowd was taking in every moment, cherishing every second as one. The band fed off of this communal vibe, with Matt forgoing the traditional Oi speech with praises of how much they love and appreciate their fans. They made good on their words as they treated those in attendance to one hell of a show. They pulled no stops as they put freeform jams and interludes into every place they would fit, making the display of virtuosity from two nights prior seem like a warm up session. The most impressive of which was the seamless transition of “Bring Our Children Home” into the brooding dub-punk of “Overcome” at the close of their set. Drummer Chris Tsagakis and bassist Joe Troy played off of each other as they slowed things down enough for Troy to usher in the instantly recognizable rolling bassline that ushers in “Overcome”. Moments later as Matt began to sing so did every voice in earshot, drowning out even the house mix coming through the PA. And just like that the band retreated. The crowd knew they would return and when they did and went in to “…And the Battle Begun” every voice in the house joined along knowing that this was their last chance and they would be damned not to be a part of it.
1. In Her Drawer
2. VCG III
3. Consequential Apathy
5. Mastering the List
6. Taking Chase as the Serpent Slithers
9. My Lonesome Only Friend
10. It’s Only Another Parsec
11. Bring Our Children Home or Everything Is Nothing
13. …And the Battle Begun
14. Only for the Night
If anything sums up RX Bandits and their fans it’s this: at their shows when they leave the stage before the encore it’s not the usual chants of “ONE MORE SONG!” that come out of the audience. In its stead the crowd sings along a refrain of “I must have seen her face before. I fell in love when I was born. Now they hide her with a whisper. It’s over” until they take the stage once again. Sadly, the only thing that made these last couple of nights any different is that it really was over.