As the return of the ever popular Itchy Feet coincided with their Exeter gig last Sunday, the arrival of folk-punk heroes, Andrew Jackson Jihad, slipped under the radar for most students. The Cavern was barely in reach of half of its capacity but, if it phased the band, they did not let it show. Before they took the stage, local boy, Some Sort Of Threat, delivered a set of fiery Frank Turner-esque tracks, none of which lasted longer than a couple of minutes. Bristol-based punk band, Caves, were support for Andrew Jackson Jihad’s whole tour; this act followed with a set far noisier and heavier than the headline act but, nonetheless, it was greeted rapturously by an attentive crowd.
Andrew Jackson Jihad opened with Temple Grandin, the first track off their latest album, Christmas Island. During this and the next couple of songs, the crowd felt sparse and fairly inactive. The arrival of crowd-pleaser, People II: The Reckoning, early in their set marked a momentous shift: everyone bunched up to the front and a raucous mosh pit broke out, with everyone screaming the words back at lead vocalist, Sean Bonnette. It undeniably provided one of the highlights of the night.
Without Bonnette’s usual biting lyrical cynicism and suffering from lacklustre instrumentals, Christmas Island paled in comparison to previous releases like 2011’s Knife Man. On stage, however, the band breathed new life into it with revitalised instrumentals. Do, Re And Me, for example, provided a standout sing-along of the set despite its seeming triviality compared to the band’s earlier work. They managed to interweave new and old songs into a cohesive set that teased the best out of all of their work.
To close the set, Bonnette climbed down from the stage and sat on the floor, encouraging us to join him. From there, he eased into a tender version of Big Bird, the cathartic closer from Knife Man. With lyrics like “I’m afraid of my Grandfather’s cancer / And I’m afraid of my Mom’s dying arm”, it is surely one of the most candid and confessional tracks in the band’s back-catalogue. With fewer than a hundred of us sitting around him on the floor of the Cavern, the intimacy and openness of the track was emphatically underlined. As the instrumental joined his lone vocal, he leapt back onto stage and the last few intense moments of the gig played out. Despite the poor turnout, the band seemed genuinely humbled that anyone half a world away from their Arizona heartland had come out to see them. By this end, the frontman was drenched in sweat, having put on one of the most intense, yet categorically fun gigs I have seen in Exeter.