Live Review: Ratboys at Brixton Windmill, London – 31 May, 2024

The opening night of Ratboys’ weekend residence at London’s legendary Brixton Windmill was a resounding display of the adoration they have built up across their hard-working and rewarding decade-plus career to date.

Prior to the Chicago quartet taking the stage, the crowd was treated to a set from indie risers Langkamer. Ratboys singer Julia Steiner later revealed that they were turned onto the Bristol quartet by a drunk fan outside one of their shows on their last UK tour – and being the considerate band they are, they followed up on the recommendation only to discover Langkamer are indeed an awesome group.

That recommendation was paid forward to inviting Langkamer to share the stage with them and that faith was well founded, as the foursome bounded through a set of lively indie jams that handily instilled both cheer and energy among the packed-in crowd. If those in attendance were unfamiliar with Langkamer beforehand, their performance – with songs that certainly overlap in parts with Ratboys’ anthemic rockers – will have easily earned them a few new fans.

What seems clear about Ratboys – and became blatantly obvious when they started playing – is that they could easily play a venue two or three times the size of the Windmill’s 150 person capacity. They have the power, poise and catalogue to go bigger, but doing multiple nights in a smaller space perhaps suits them better. They want to foster a close, intimate relationship with their fans, sharing the small space the way Steiner and guitarist Dave Segan used to when they started writing songs together back in their college dorm rooms. Ratboys are also the kind of band that attract adoring fans who might show up consecutive nights, rewarded by different deep cuts each time.

On this occasion, Ratboys drew heavily from most recent album The Window, kicking off the night with three of the record’s opening four tracks: “Making Noise For The Ones You Love”, “Morning Zoo” and “It’s Alive!”. They’ve just come off tour supporting The Decemberists in much bigger venues, but it seems like they didn’t turn down the volume to accommodate the Windmill’s denser space – engulfing the audience in waves of fuzzed guitar and resounding melodies. Even with everyone screaming along to “It’s Alive!” the band’s delectable roar was all that could be heard.

There was a little respite from the onslaught when Ratboys dug into their back catalogue for some slightly more subdued numbers. Before playing “The Stanza” and “Down The River”, songs from those early dorm room years (though re-recorded and re-released on their 10-year-anniversary album Happy Birthday, Ratboy!), Steiner casually talked about how she had an overwhelming crush on Segan back in those days, which threatened to get in the way of them making life-changing music. The band’s comfort with each other resounded in these small exchanges and made the audience feel closer to them all too. 

This was a good and necessary thing, as it meant we weren’t all totally creeped out by Steiner’s recounting the time her mother preserved her family cat’s carcass so she wouldn’t miss the funeral. This story, of course, inspired Ratboys’ classic “Elvis Is In The Freezer”, which sounded glorious on the night.

However, it was the songs from The Window that stood out the most and underlined the fact that Ratboys are growing and improving with each new release. The interwoven melodies of “I Want You (Fall 2010)” had everyone rolling back their memories to relive youthful attractions, the twang and melancholy of “The Window” practically reached into our chests to pluck our heartstrings and the titanic “Black Earth, WI” expanded and exploded in the live setting with all the potential that the recorded version suggests.

While Ratboys would normally have exited the stage after this, with whoops and cheers of acclaim demanding they return for an encore, the Windmill does not really have the facilities to allow space for bands to take part in this piece of theatre. The band made light of it in their naturally comic manner before launching into the two-pronged finale. Those keeping track of the setlist might have thought the representation of their 2020 album Printer’s Devil had been fairly light to that point – but Ratboys had their back.

The galvanising “Alien With A Sleep Mask On” had people percolating like molecules of H2O in a boiling kettle – it would have been more than enough of a finale by itself. However, the ever-generous band had one more for us, the resounding “Look To” absolutely demolishing expectations to conclude. The words of the song may find Steiner uncertain who to look to, but seeing Ratboys on stage it’s clear that she has the perfect support network she needs in her bandmates and, more broadly, in their fans.