Anti-Flag

Political punk veterans mark two decades together with an energetic showing at the Mandela Hall

Queen’s Mandela Hall is a sea of brightly-coloured mohawks, leather jackets and spikes as Pittsburgh punk rockers Anti-Flag roll into Belfast as part of their world tour.

The evening kicks off with a lively set from Northern Irish act No Matter. Formed in 2010, the Belfast pop punk quartet specialise in infectious three-chord, three-minute tunes that wouldn’t sound out of place on Green Day’s Dookie.

Citing ‘dogs wearing hats’ and potatoes as key influences, this is a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and their show is a lot of fun to watch because of it.

With dizzying 4/4 beats and some fantastic pogoing choreography, they make it worthwhile for those here in time to catch their set. July 18 sees the launch of their next EP, Drop the Act, at McHugh’s Bar in Belfast.

Next on the bill is Belfast’s most famous Oi band, Runnin’ Riot. Formed in 1996, the ‘Riot are renowned for their no nonsense, street punk style and straight talking lyrics.

Drummer Eden, guitarist Marty and bassist Ralph make a tight-knit musical unit while frontman Colin McQuillan doesn’t so much sing as beat you over the head with stories of working-class Belfast, and between songs he is genuinely impassioned about social issues such as the state of the NHS.

Clearly bringing their A-game, they blister through fan favourites ‘Lost Generation’ and ‘Alcoholic Heroes’ as well as finding time to air a few new tracks to be featured on their next album.

Despite no title being set as of yet one thing is for sure; if the remainder is half as contagious as ‘My Pride, My Roots’ sounds tonight fans could be in for a real classic.

Fresh from gracing Glastonbury on their twentieth anniversary as a band, it’s finally time for Anti-Flag. Never known for sugarcoating their political stances, they arrive on stage to the militant strains of Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ and it’s business from the off.

As their name suggests they are fiercely anti-war and anti-imperialism and their lyrics reflect those ideals throughout. On paper it sounds like it would make for wearisome listening, but their infectious melodies and vibrant rhythms render that as far from the reality as imaginable.

The group are a ball of energy, with singer Justin Sane and bassist Chris Dos making highly entertaining sparring partners, the set an exhausting rollercoaster of flying guitars and shape throwing.

Not that watching them is a passive activity! Midway through their second song, the riotous ‘Broken Bones’, the band stop dead so Dos can ward off security staff trying stamp out a mosh pit before flawlessly resuming the track.

Despite the energetic showmanship, which at times even calls for a megaphone, the band are note perfect, and it’s clear that even after 20 years they’ve not lost any of their ferocity. Barely stopping for breath they seamlessly weave a few classic Clash covers into their own extensive back catalogue.

Ignoring the hammy encore formality most bands opt for, they play straight through the anthemic finale of ‘Power to the Peaceful’, throughout which the entire drum kit winds up amidst the crowd for a truly spectacular climax.

Even after two decades together, this will many a gig-goer’s first experience of Ant-Flag in person and on evidence of tonight it certainly won’t be their last. Here’s to the next 20 years.

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