Bexhill-on-Sea, De La Warr Pavilion
Friday 9th March 2012
Guilty pleasure? You look at the hatred directed at Keane from the indie police and wonder where the venom really comes from. Before making it big, and they were huge, in 2004, Keane did the slogs round the toilet venues of the land, even in the weeks leading up to Hopes And Fears. They released their own records and sold them at gigs, they signed to and released two singles on Fierce Panda, still a bastion of good taste in indie music. They’d paid their dues as much as any of the bands championed as cool and proper bands.
Recognised the lack of guitars was never going to help them and, in Tom Chaplin, they had a singer with a phenomenal voice, but who was totally uneasy as a frontman and whose rosy cheeks and awkward stage banter gave people an easy target.
Since then, Keane have been like Oasis post their debut. Yes, it’s an unusual comparison, but tonight’s gig proves that point. Ignoring whether you’re too cool for school to give them any credit, the second album didn’t scale the heights of the first musically, but still had killer singles. From there, whilst the albums struggled to match the predecessors, there were still those songs. To be fair to Oasis, they never reached the nadir of Night Train and the horrible rap collaboration. Chaplin’s well-documented issues with alcohol just added to the ammunition.
The two gigs are their comeback from a three year absence ahead of their upcoming album Strangeland. Bexhill is a few miles from their hometown and the town features on the artwork for the album, so it’s the ideal place to launch this campaign. However, it’s still with a degree of trepidation that I booked tickets, out of curiosity, but seeing it, as some gigs are these days, a chance to catch up with some old friends.
Promisingly having met up with a couple of friends who’ve followed the band since the days of the Bull and Gate, Buffalo Bar and Water Rats who’d heard the new album and had the same views of their most recent output, the reports were positive, a return to the more straight-forward approach of Hopes And Fears, trying not to be something they’re not.
The gig proves, in the main, that this is the case. If you were a fan of Hopes And Fears who lost interest afterwards, and record sales suggest there’s hundreds of thousands of you, then the new material will appeal to you.
Of the 21 songs played, 10 are from the new record. There’s a few duff ones in there, You Are Young and Disconnected, the first two new ones are not an auspicious start. However, once you get to The Starting Line, On The Road, Day Will Come, Watch How You Go and the epic Silenced By The Night, there’s a vibrancy to the songs in Tim Rice-Oxley’s keyboards and Richard Hughes’ drums and Jessie Quin’s bass and keyboards. Of course, if you never liked Keane in the first place, then there’s definitely nothing here for you. And if you’re one of those looking for an easy target, Chaplin, whilst losing weight, still has those mannerisms, hilarious arm movements and awkward between song banter that he had back in 2004. It’s funny in a world where people say it’s all about the music that they ignore his voice, powerful, soaring and rarely missing a note.
The rest of the set proves my Oasis theory at least makes some sort of sense. The other eleven songs they play form a sort of greatest hits set scattered amongst the new songs. The four big singles off Hopes And Fears are there, along with most of those from Under The Iron Sea and Perfect Symmetry and the only one that doesn’t stand the test of time is the closing Crystal Ball.
The crowd, which ensured the 1,500 capacity hall sold out two nights in a matter of minutes, love it all. There’s a mix of ages here, from the teenagers to their mums, including people from around the world who’d travelled for these shows. It’ll be interesting to see how the new stuff fares in the wider world.
Guilty pleasure? Yes. Not cool? Probably not. Did I enjoy it? Yes. And let’s face it, that’s what music is about, not some tedious beard-stroking analysis of what we should like.
Keane played You Are Young, Bend And Break, Disconnected, This Is The Last Time, The Starting Line, On The Road, Nothing In My Way, Everybody’s Changing, Black Rain, Spiralling, Day Will Come, Perfect Symmetry, Somewhere Only We Know, Watch How You Go, Silenced By The Night, Is It Any Wonder, Bedshaped, Sea Fog, My Shadow, Sovereign Light CafÃÂ© and Crystal Ball.
The album ‘Strangeland‘ is out on May 7 and Keane tour the UK in late May and June.