LIVE: Magnolia Park @ Boston Music Room, London

By Katherine Allvey

Outside, the late summer sun drifts into autumn here in the year 2023. But inside the Boston Music Room, it’s springtime circa 2006. It’s the evening of Magnolia Park’s festival warmup show, some three days before they would take to the stage at Reading and Leeds, and it’s very much a first draft of what they would later present. For us in the audience, it’s a privilege to peek behind the professional curtain and take part in the informality of what was essentially a rehearsal with extra bells and whistles. It’s a cliché to describe a show as having a ‘party atmosphere’, but the party that Magnolia Park are bringing this evening is a very specific one. The ambiance of the venue is akin to a school hall, complete with a slightly limp mirrorball, and the party was the one with that specific sparkling moment where a kid in your class introduces you to a band who are destined to change your musical trajectory forever. The band’s slant on the genre is simultaneously original and another step in the well-trodden pop punk staircase, and we get to see them both as people and rockstars for one brief evening.

Of course, there are some creases in Magnolia Park’s performance which will inevitably be ironed out before igniting the crowd at Reading. There are awkwardly long pauses between songs to introduce two of the band’s mums (“We couldn’t have done any of this without our moms,” Roberts grins) and a lot of fumbling with nervous crowd banter. We happily play along, wanting to support them on their test run. But all these drawbacks fade into insignificance when Magnolia Park throw out the first line of ‘Misfits’. Roberts moves with assertive ease, alternating between lip syncing to the crowd choruses and quick twisting jumps. Rather than conducting our adoring vocals, he twitches his hands like he’s using a secret system to identify members of an exclusive club. Live, ‘Breathing’ is far more industrial than the dance beats of the studio version would suggest, whereas ‘Do Or Die’ has a vital aggression when performed. It could easily be the anthem for a parallel universe where a post-apocalyptic Linkin Park rule a gang of steampunk pre-teens. 

If you’ve ever, even for a second, doubted Magnolia Park’s punk credentials, their performance of ‘Don’t Be Racist’ will stop you in your tracks like a steel bar. “Who here has had racist shit happen to them? Who here hates racist people?” vocalist Joshua Roberts questions the crowd before taking a moment to introduce pit safety rules, then launches into his personal trope-twisting response to racial prejudice. The hot sweat running down your back instantly chills as he turns Rage Against Machine’s line ‘Fuck you, won’t do what you tell me’ into an a Cappella lament, equal parts vicious lullaby and crooning anarchy. Roberts sings from a place deep inside him with honesty in his uncensored response to hostility.

At the other end of the spectrum is ‘Liar’, with Vincent Ernst taking over vocal duties. He’s a fanboy for his own band and us simultaneously. Live, it’s teenage trash Burn Book snark with beautiful chimes and bounces. The pit bubbles like a frenzied cauldron, and overflows when they cover Fall Out Boy’s ‘Sugar, We’re Goin Down’. The real release comes during the final song, ‘Sick Of It All’; the crowd, from Mexico, Bournemouth and everywhere in between, are invited onstage to completely blur the barriers between us and them. A guy from the Netherlands snatches Roberts’ microphone to spontaneously take over as the vocalist clutches his knees in laughter.

All good things must come to an end, and a Magnolia Park show is no exception. Their set was painfully short. When Roberts announces the last song forty five minutes after opening, it feels like he must been joking, but sadly not. Some fifty three minutes after Magnolia Park took the stage, the crowd are already mid-flow back to the Tube. However, even if they’d performed a four hour long epic of their entire back catalogue, it would have seemed too short. Their energy is empowering and invigorating in equal measure, and it’s unlikely they’ll play a venue this small in London again.