The Mods were out in force at Shepherd’s Bush Empire for The Rifles. Fred Perry and Ben Sherman shirts moshed together good-humouredly for the return of Chingford’s finest at the end of a short national tour on the back of last autumn’s release of their excellent third album Freedom Run.
Like The Jam, whose early records the band has frequently been compared to (and whose song Eton Rifles may have inspired their name), The Rifles have gone all soulful. After making their name with edgy guitar anthems of urban frustration, their latest work shows a new maturity of songwriting and more rounded sound, with love transcending anger, and hope prevailing over pessimism.
The atmosphere before the start of the gig was certainly expectant, with the laddish chanting only comparable to the build-up of a football match, while the arrival of the band on stage echoed the roar greeting players’ emergence from the tunnel. Now a five-piece, with original members Joel Stoker (vocals) and Lucas Crowther (guitar), and replacement rhythm section Lee Burgess (bass) and Kenton Shinn (drums) joined by keyboardist Dean Mumford, The Rifles gave one hundred per cent for all ninety minutes of their performance.
The set was pretty evenly split between their three albums, containing plenty of early favourites as well as more recent output that served as a great overview of the band’s seven-year career. They kicked off with the dynamically uplifting Dreamer, the opening track from Freedom Run, then moved backwards to Great Escape’s Strokes-like Sometimes and further still to punky second single Lonely Boy from debut album No Love Lost. Other highlights included rousing accounts of garage rockers Repeated Offender and She’s Got Standards, the lovey-dovey Tangled Up in Love and the psychedelic distortion of Little Boy Blue (Human Needs).
A brace of ballads added some nice variety mid-set, with flat-capped Joel playing Eveline solo on acoustic guitar, then joined by pork-pie-hatted Lucas for an acoustic rendition of Robin Hood. And for a change, as well as singing backing vocals, Lucas took lead on a couple of tracks, while Joel swapped his rhythm guitar for Lee’s bass guitar. The band returned for two encores: the controlled aggression of The General and the jauntily feelgood Romeo and Juliet, with the crowd happily continuing to sing the chorus “Woah, woah, woah” out into the west London night. The Rifles sure hit the target this time.