Despite being a regular gig attendee and Very Emotional Person™, I’ve only cried at two gigs in my life.
One was at the Brighton Dome in late 2015, and one was last weekend at Alexandra Palace. Both were because of The Maccabees. Ever since I was given their third offering Given To The Wild on CD for my 17th birthday, I have loved them. And this weekend I had to say goodbye.
By the standards of most people my age, I got into The Maccabees very late. The very first time I listened to Given To The Wild I remember thinking ‘this is not what I thought The Maccabees sounded like’. Perhaps I’d heard snatches of ‘X-Ray’ or ‘No Kind Words’, because in my newly 17-year-old mind, The Maccabees were a rock band. I suppose they still are, according to iTunes genre classifications. But my god, they are so much more than that. When most recent and (sob) last album Marks To Prove It came out in 2015, I remember commenting to my housemate that The Maccabees are almost like a completely different band with every album. And it’s true. Where Colour It In is full of indie rock sing-along rhythms, Given To The Wild is a dance of piano and guitar riffs coupled with swooping, ethereal vocal melodies. Where Wall of Arms is an album of fun moshy bangers, Marks To Prove It is for singing to the sky and holding back tears. No wonder every one of their gigs is an emotional rollercoaster, and none more so than Ally Pally, July 1st 2017, the last gig the The Maccabees would ever play
Saying goodbye to your favourite band is hard. When I found out last august that they were splitting up, I was genuinely shocked. With not a single bad track and four incredible albums to their name, The Maccabees seemed to have so much more in them. They’re still young, still unfathomably talented, and I was at least expecting a few more years of them. How could they be splitting up when they were only getting better and better? But, giving it thought, the only thing harder than saying goodbye to your favourite bands is watching your favourite bands turn to shit (see also: The Courteeners, Fall Out Boy, Kaiser Chiefs). When they’ve obviously run out of good ideas and recreated some bullshit over-commercialised pop-rock just to stay in the money. Whenever you mention that they’re your favourite band you’re met with eye-rolls and the ‘but they’re a bit shit now, aren’t they’, and you can do nothing but agree. It would have been heartbreaking to watch The Maccabees turn into that. It takes a wise band and a lot of willpower to end a journey on such an incredible high, but they did it, and they did it fantastically well.
Through some cunning and a little bit of pushing, we managed to get ourselves near to the front. Stage left. Ready to receive the gift of The Maccabees for one final time, and what a gift it was. Kicking things of with eponymous second album single ‘Wall Of Arms’, it was clear that this would be a set to remember. It’s not often that you have the joy of seeing a band play all their best hits, rather than focusing on one album, but with one last chance, of course the set-list was to die for. After moving on to the rhythmic ‘Feel To Follow’, guitarist Felix White greeted the crowd: ‘We want to make this the best goodbye party ever. This is the last time we are going to play these songs so whatever you feel, express it.’ The crowd took that to heart as the band went into 2016 single ‘Kamakura’, screaming ‘YOUR BEST FRIENDS FORGIVE YOU / YOUR BEST FRIENDS FORGET YOU GET OLD’ with arms high. This was followed by three more earlier tracks; ‘William Powers’, ‘Young Lions’ and ‘Love You Better’, before the band launched into the fantastic sing/shout along anthems ‘Precious Time’ and ‘Can You Give It’.
Over the years, gigs have become a kind of church for me. From the rush to get tickets to being drenched with sweat and unable to speak, the whole process feels like a kind of pilgrimage, and never more so than for this last Maccabees gig. Being in a room with so many people singing the same words and loving the same music and all jumping in time is the closest I have come to a religious experience, and when we all know it’s for the last time, it’s something else. We all screamed ‘LET’S. TAKE. OUR. PREC. IOUS. TIME. ABOUT IT’. We all jumped to the instrumentals in ‘Can You Give It’ like our lives depended on it. To be raising your hands to the sky and singing along to words that seem to understand you, sung by people you admire so much, that feeling is just something else. I risk being over sentimental and over the top here, of course, but gigs are such an important space for unbarred feeling, and at this gig was that multiplied by 1000.
Next followed a few of the bands darker numbers that characterise Marks To Prove It. The massive-chorused ‘Spit It Out’ had the crowd asking ‘what are we doing now?’ while the heartbreaking ‘Silence’ had us all (or me, at least) in tears. To the joy of the crowd, lead vocalist Orlando Weeks then announced that they would play a few from Colour It In, their debut album and the work that shot them to success. Ode to a south London swimming pool ‘Latchmere’ went off with a bang, whilst the first single they ever released, ‘X-Ray’, was met with a heady nostalgic moshing.
After a couple more mid-career tracks, Orlando let the bomb drop that there were only two songs left, but brightened the crowd again by adding ‘you know how this works. These are our last tracks for now’. Starting off the end with emotional ode to being young and drunk with your best pals, ‘Grew Up At Midnight’ had me and my friends swaying, arms around each other, and I’m pretty sure a couple were trying not to cry. Then, in classic final show fashion, the band brought on some friends. A lot of friends. Mystery Jets, Jack Peñate and Idles were just a few of the many who were invited onto stage for one last sing along. I never know whether to laugh or cry to ‘Something Like Happiness’, but singing ‘you just know when you know / you just know’ with 10,000 other people is emotional as heck. In the break before the encore, people just couldn’t stop singing. Never has a show-encore break sounded so good. It’s hard to convey how good a chours of ‘woooooah’ can be via writing, so you might just have to trust me on this one.
By process of elimination, it wasn’t hard to work out what their encore would consist of, and true to prediction they came back with a rendition of Marks To Prove It’s title track, along with pal Jamie T. They followed this up with two first album love songs, ode to romantic confusion ‘First Love’ and the perfectly sweet acoustic ‘Toothpaste Kisses’, perhaps their most famous track the first Maccabees song I ever heard (shamefully, because it was part of the Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging soundtrack). And then the true last song. Last of the encore, last of the gig, last of The Maccabees. True to the trajectory of their career, ‘Pelican’ was nothing less than a euphoric ending to an incredibly special night. I felt so fortunate to be there with my best friends, dancing to the last song this incredible band would ever play. We’ve been blessed with The Maccabees for 13 years, and by god are we lucky.
Words by Holly Carter