LIVE: Bob Vylan @ The Underworld, London

By Ash Bebbington

Camden’s Underworld is packed out shoulder to shoulder, it’s a boiling hot May day and sweat drips from the ceiling and walls. Vocalist Bobby Vylan throws a bottle after bottle of water into the crowd, urging everyone to look after each other and stay hydrated. Then he flips on a dime and becomes a snarling flurry of energy as the band rip into crowd favourite ‘We Live Here’. This contrast gets to the heart of what’s so special about Bob Vylan shows; the music on display is cathartic and aggressive and the performance onstage reflects that but it is also a welcoming, safe, and loving space.

The evening kicks off with Bristolian producer and vocalist Grove, who starts their set to a sparsely populated crowd. At first, the crowd seem a little unsure what to make of them but by the end of the set, the room is packed and the vast majority of the crowd seems to be well on board. Their music is packed with energy and dirty beats, and lyrics with politically overt themes, and it’s honestly difficult to think of who could’ve opened this bill any better. One particularly memorable moment is a song called ‘Fuck Your Landlord’ which has most of the Underworld singing ‘off with their heads!’ back at the stage.

Before Bob Vylan take the stage, there’s a palpable sense of excited tension in the room. The downstairs standing section is crammed 20 minutes before the band takes the stage and only gets more and more full from there. There are old-school fruit machines plugged in and flashing either side of the stage, while the stage is backdropped by a sheet covered in union jacks with ‘THE PRICE OF LIFE’ – the name of Bob Vylan’s recently released top 20 record – spray-painted onto it.

The duo step onstage to a rapturous reception before inviting everyone to join in on some meditation and stretching. Then they launch into ‘Big Man’ and the tension in the room erupts into joyful chaos. Bobby is an electric performer, looking right at home on the legendary venue’s stage – from start to finish he is a whirl of limbs and hair, the crowd hanging on his every word and movement and feeding off his energy, with the front of the crowd rarely keeping still throughout.

As you might expect, the set is heavy on the new record, with renditions of ‘Take That’, ‘Bait the Bear’ and ‘GDP’ coming up early on in the set – the latter sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy. Ahead of ‘He Sold Guns’ Bobby asks the crowd to vote on what version of the song to hear, the album version or an acoustic version, joking that “the people of England can always be trusted to vote correctly”. When the crowd goes for the album version he tells us, “you guys fucked up, the other version is better” to plenty of laughs.

Fans of Bob Vylan’s older material are sure to go home happy, too, as they play plenty of songs from their 2020 record ‘We Live Here’ as well as some deeper cuts. ‘I Heard You Want Your Country Back’ is particularly furious, while ‘England’s Ending’ sparks bedlam in the crowd.

In true punk fashion, the band invite the audience to join them up on stage for the final song ‘Wicked & Bad’. While it’s something we’ve all seen before, it’s notable how respectful and kind everyone is to each other up on the stage. Bob Vylan fans really are a lovely bunch – a testament to the band themselves for creating this kind of atmosphere at their shows when the music is so explosive.

Bob Vylan is the best political punk band this country has seen in a long, long time and their show at the Underworld was a brilliant, cathartic, sweaty riot. With the level of quality on display both onstage and on record, they won’t be playing venues this small for much longer. Miss their next show at your peril.