The defiant punks in Anti-Flag have been kicking around the punk scene for the best part of 30 years. During this time, they’ve released a plethora of albums making their political views clear. After so long, you’d expect them to burn out or become irrelevant. We headed to their show in Bristol to find out what’s become of Anti-Flag.
Hailing from the US and bringing with them a relaxed pop-punk sound, Worriers (7) warmed up the (admittedly small) crowd well. The band’s line-up for this tour was completed by Em Foster of Nervus and Milk Teeth, and together the four-piece flew through their set. Em’s vocals harmonized with frontwoman Lauren Denitzio’s own interesting one, which had depth and power to perfectly compliment their music. Whilst taking a brief rest from playing to tune their instruments, Denitzio exclaimed, “Happy Halloween everybody, tonight we are Anti-Flag!” – and indeed they were. Each member of the band had dressed as the respective member of Anti-Flag, a bit of a niche joke but a good one nonetheless.
‘WTF is Sleep’ wasn’t one of Worriers’ hard-hitting punk tracks, but it stood out beautifully with the punchy drums and uplifting lyrics. Throughout their set, Worriers played with different elements from alternative music, from complex guitar licks to droning bass lines showing that they were anything but a basic punk band. They played an engaging and enjoyable set, filled with catchy songs with big choruses, but unfortunately their fresh new sound wasn’t enough to resonate with the hardcore punk fans present.
SWX filled up for the mighty Cancer Bats (9.5), and as soon as they walked on stage the reason for this was clear. Frontman Liam Cormier was dressed in a skeleton suit with a real pumpkin perched atop his head! The rest of the band were in full costume too, their efforts admirable. Cancer Bats threw themselves straight into their set, the snarls of ‘Gatekeeper’ being executed brilliantly as Cormier bounced about the stage.
Guitarist Scott Middleton (dressed as Thor) was disciplined with his technical playing, conjuring up colossal riffs and complex solos. On stage, Cormier did not stop moving, his energy both enviable and infectious. In the pit, the crowd was getting rowdy – the reaction you’d expect these hardcore punk titans to evoke.
The brutal energy of ‘Hail Destroyer’ saw a mass singalong and a huge mosh pit, Cancer Bats on stage egging the crowd on. The set the four-piece played was full-on, featuring some crowd favourites including ‘Road Sick’ and ‘Pneumonia Hawk’. The band powered through their set with more energy and enthusiasm than other bands on the night’s bill; Liam Cormier even kept the pumpkin on his head for almost half an hour.
Cancer Bats acknowledged that the majority of the crowd was present for Anti-Flag, but to ensure that everyone enjoyed their set (as if it was possible not to!), they brought out Chris Barker of Anti-Flag for an energetic cover of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’. Cancer Bats’ snarling, beastly set stole the show – and the band knew this. They performed with precision and confidence, and the fun they were having was obvious. After a full-on 45 minutes, they left the stage elated – how could Anti-Flag follow a set like that?
The veteran punks threw themselves straight into their set with an energetic rendition of ‘Die for the Government’. While Anti-Flag’s (8) stage show wasn’t as chaotic as Cancer Bats’, the simple 3-chord punk songs resonated with the majority of the crowd. Songs transitioned with Chris Barker screaming the title, and as the band began to find their groove the crowd began to really get into the music.
Anti-Flag played their songs in a controlled and measured way, but their speech between tunes was filled with fiery passion. Throughout their set, Chris and frontman Justin Sane encouraged many a circle pit whilst ensuring their fans knew to pick up anyone that happened to fall.
‘Broken Bones’ saw a mass singalong, while the heavy verses and upbeat choruses of ‘Racists’ got the room moving. ‘Fuck Police Brutality’ was frenzied, the band on stage manically playing while the crowd below shouted every word back at them, fists raised. Anti-Flag’s punk songs were short and sweet, as was the speech between tracks so the four-piece managed to fly through many old favourites.
Closing their set was ‘Brandenburg Gate’, a stunningly emotional song which played with elements from modern pop punk music. The room knew the words, and in true Anti-Flag style, bassist Chris Barker and drummer Pat Thetic brought their instruments into the pit for the final chorus. Anti-Flag are crowd pleasers; their shows are filled with love and fan favourites that really rile up a crowd. But compare them to Worriers who quickly proved themselves to the crowd, or to Cancer Bats who are more than a little bit nuts, and you’ll quickly see how some of their edge has been ever so slightly corroded with the passing of the decades.