The Maccabees may not have the popularity that other indie groups such as Foals and Courteeners have, but they still have a dedicated following and cult status, as well as a huge amount of critical success to their name. They have bowed out on a high – their final album Marks to Prove It reached No1 in 2015, and soon after a summer filled with playing festivals, in late 2016 they announced they would be calling it a day. After all, some may argue, they had achieved all they ever wanted to and more. The group has also explored a drastic amount of artistic direction during their decade or so together. They didn’t want to say goodbye quietly, however; they announced an appearance at Glastonbury, live dates in Glasgow, Manchester, and a sold out three-day haul at London’s Alexandra Palace. I was lucky enough to see the lads on the middle day of their residency at Ally Pally.
Alexandra Palace is one of the best live venues I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a gig in. It’s an all standing arena, so it retains a level of intimacy and closeness with the artist that can be lost at sitting and standing venues. There were two honorary supports during their Ally Pally dates. I only caught a glimpse of the set from Idles; they are raucous, energetic and commanding on the stage. Their voices reflect the anger and dismay felt by many individuals in this country at present, and their themes follow the political and social undertones of other punk bands such as Slaves and Sleaford Mods. Following them were fellow alternative rock band Mystery Jets, who have been around on the scene as long as The Maccabees had been. I didn’t warm to the set from the group – vocally they were great, but there just wasn’t the same fizz that lifted the crowd like Idles had done previously. They don’t have as many recognisable stand-out anthems like other indie groups either, so it wasn’t until they played their most popular songs ‘Young Love’ and ‘Two Doors Down’ that the crowd were sufficiently energised, electrifying and boosting the set only then.
The supports built up the anticipation in the room for The Maccabees, and after a wait that felt like forever, just after quarter to nine Orlando, brothers Hugo and Felix, Rupert and Sam arrived to rapturous applause from the crowd. Old home footage of The Maccabees was shown on large screens pre-show, following them on their travels in the early stages of their career. It was touching, and just a touch emotional, to see the band fresh-faced and excited in the previously unreleased feature, to the polished, confident, mighty band they have become.
Four albums were released by the band in their lifespan, each one picking the group up fans on the way, so it was fitting that they performed a balance of tracks from Colour It In, Wall of Arms, Given to the Wild, and Marks to Prove It. The band performed singles; they also sang fan favourites which had not been performed in years. I was surprised when they opened with ‘Wall of Arms’ and not one of their most defining tracks, but it alighted the crowd and the up-tempo start kicked off the concert in the right way. Apart from one moment where Orlando invited the crowd to personally boo at their imminent breakup, the rest of the evening was a perfect mixture of tender, bittersweet moments with the band (First Love, Silence, Love You Better), contrasted with atmospheric, euphoric singalongs (Latchmere, No Kind Words, Something like Happiness). I liked how the group began Marks to Prove It track ‘Spit It Out’ with a gentle, vulnerable piano backing; it added something extra to the track, emphasising the quality and beauty of the vocals.
The crowd interaction was great – The Maccabees constantly thanked the fans for all their support over the years, and kept reminding us all to have a great night and enjoy every second. Being one of the most respected bands in the industry, there were also special guests invited to the massive 10,000 strong party, of course. Mystery Jets and Marcus from folk-indie outfit Mumford and Sons combined forces with The Maccabees with a rousing singalong to ‘Something Like Happiness’. They did not waste the perfect opportunity to chuck a sea of red confetti over the crowd. Following this, a brief encore – they were always going to return to sing arguably their four biggest songs – ‘Marks to Prove It’, ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ made famous from its place on British cult teen movie Angus, Thongs and Perfect Kissing’, ‘First Love’, and ending proceedings with the infectiously catchy ‘Pelican’. In a blink of an eye, with one last final confetti blast, The Maccabees brilliant show had come to an end. The lads stayed on stage several minutes after they’d finished ‘Pelican’ to soak in the applause, the second to last time they’d ever stand as a group and witness such a reaction to their music. The Maccabees, it was a privilege to spend some Precious Time with you that night.