Anti-Flag made the choice to headline one of London’s most iconic gay nightclubs for a number of reasons, including their strong desire to promote their message of unity amongst people from all walks of life, and, as venues go, Heaven feels like the perfect place for a punk rock show. It’s a small, two-level stage, allowing Anti-Flag and their supporting acts the opportunity to get closer to the audience than the average venue.

Opening up tonight’s show was Worriers, a New York native melodic punk rock group not yet on many people’s radars. Lead vocalist Lauren Denitzio caught the attention of the entire venue and had the majority of the audience dancing to the groovy melodies. It emphasized my belief that a gig should be just as much about an opening band receiving exposure and gaining more fans as also catching the headliner that the majority of fans paid to see.

Next on the bill were Toronto’s very own hardcore punk titans, Cancer Bats. Opening up with “Gatekeeper” caused the venue to erupt; mini-pits opened up all over the place, and vocalist Liam Cormier took full advantage of the split-level stage to get up close and personal with the audience. Early on in their set, Cormier introduced fan favorite, “Hail Destroyer” and the atmosphere and energy went into overdrive. The smaller pits escalated into full-blown circle pits, eventually merging into one massive tornado of flying bodies.

Watch the video for this Cancer Bats classic “Hail Destroyer” from the album of the same name.

Introducing “Scared to Death,” Cormier highlighted the band’s belief to not pass judgment on others, be it through homophobia, racism etc… Given the choice of venue, the point being made resonated with the audience on a level unlikely to have occurred anywhere else in London. The highlight of their set came when Anti-Flag bassist Chris Baxter came to the stage and joined Cancer Bats for a rendition of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” When this happened, there was not a motionless person in the venue! Cancer Bats played their set as if they were headlining and, let’s face it, could have easily headlined this show themselves.

Now, for the main event. It was time for Anti-Flag to hit the stage to The Ramones’ “Blitzrieg Bop,” followed by Charlie Chaplin’s final speech from “The Great Dictator”, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 speech in Syracuse, before kicking into “Die for the Government,” a song that felt apt for the current state of global political affairs. The set was filled with fan favorites throughout, with the crowd singing along with every note. After a brief back and forth, Anti-Flag kicked into “Racists,” a song that really feels, even if indirectly, a jab at Donald Trump, a man who given the opportunity would most likely love to silence a band like Anti-Flag. Fortunately for the Pennsylvanian punks, they still live in a country that offers freedom of speech, to play such critical tracks as these.

The night continued with more singalong, crowd-pleasing anthems including “1 Trillion Dollar$,” “American Attraction” and “The Press Corpse.” The crowd was treated to an epic cover of “Salvation” by The Cranberries, enhanced by Worriers vocalist Denitzio taking lead vocals to the clear delight of the audience. A noticeable absence of drummer Pat Thetic was eventually addressed. He was, understandably, not available due to the arrival of his new son. As a result, the old-school track “Drink Drunk Punk” was dedicated to Thetic and his new family, to the sheer delight of fans.

Closing out the set, Anti-Flag took full advantage of the venue’s layout to get as close to fans as possible by dropping the drumkit into the audience and performing a spectacular rendition of “Brandenburg Gate.” A spectacular end to a spectacular set. Exiting the stage with a playout of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” highlighted the band’s strong belief in unity and the love they have for their fans.

Bands like Anti-Flag and Cancer Bats could easily fill larger venues off their own back, let alone playing together, so it felt amazing for them to play such an intimate venue. This encapsulates both bands desire to be up close and personal with their fans, creating memorable moments with the ones that matter most.

“Brandenburg Gate” is an Anti-Flag classic, featuring the legendary Rancid’s Tim Armstrong.

Cancer Bats’ Setlist:

01. Gatekeeper
02. Brightest Day
03. Arsenic in the Year of the Snake
04. Hail Destroyer
05. Trust No One
06. Lucifer’s Rocking Chair
07. Space and Time
08. R.A.T.S.
09. Scared to Death
10. Road Sick
11. Pray for Darkness
12. Sabotage (Beastie Boys cover feat. Chris Baxter)
13. Pneumonia Hawk
14. Bricks & Mortar

Anti-Flags’ Setlist:

01. Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones cover intro)
02. Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech from The Great Dictator & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 Speech in Syracuse (intro)
03. Die for the Government
04. Broken Bones
05. I’d Tell You But….
06. Cities Burn
07. Racists
08. Fuck Police Brutality
09. Turncoat
10. All of the Poison, All of the Pain
11. 1 Trillion Dollar$
12. This is the End (For You My Friend)
13. American Attraction
14. The Press Corpse
15. Salvation (The Cranberries cover feat. Lauren Denitzio)
16. Drink Drank Punk
17. Brandenburg Gate
18. I Will Always Love You (Whitney Houston cover outro)