Don't let the hippy hair fool you: this time round their sonic ambition matches their big mouths. Royal Albert Hall, London. Friday March 27
West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’? ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’? However we’re supposed to pronounce Kasabian’s fantastically deranged new album title, it will always be one-up on ‘Music For The People’. Tom Clarke would be torn between wanting to firebomb the Royal Albert Hall for its associations with privilege and being desperate to play on the home turf of his beloved British Empire. Tom Meighan and friends suffer no such cognitive dissonance. They’re here to rule. As if the proggy title didn’t spell it out for you, there is, indubitably, empire in their gaze.
When they played the same Teenage Cancer Trust gig two years ago they seemed a tad cowed by the grandeur of their surroundings, a bit gushingly over-eager to please. Tonight, uncharacteristically, there’s a serene confidence in Tom’s subdued approach. It often feels like he’s eyeing the place up as his own personal real estate. Swimming pool there. Jukebox in the alcoves. Sewing room for the wife…
The long hippy locks he’s been cultivating in the band’s recess point to one thing and one thing only: Kasabian have arrived in 1967. In their own minds, they’ve entered that ‘mature artists’ phase of their career. They want to be appraised less as today’s unit-shifters, more
as timeless rock’n’rollers within that Stones/Scream lineage they’ve always cosied up to.
Whether they could make all this ambition pay was always going to be another question. In writing a new album apparently loosely scripted on The Pretty Things’ cult ’60s concept record ‘SF Sorrow’ and spanning
a similar number of obscure genres, would their reach outrun their grasp? If ‘Empire’’s expanded horizons occasionally sounded flat-footed, was this going to be little more than a monument to lad-rocking above your station?
Well, why don’t we ask an eager young fellow making his debut on the stage right now? Gordon Smart, editor of The Sun’s Bizarre pages: “In my mind, they’re the best band working in Britain today and their new album is brilliant,” he glows in his introduction. However hard it is to trust a man who dreams of Kerry Katona upskirt exclusives, Gord’s got a point. Kasabian are bullish enough to open not only with a newie, but a slowie too. The melted-krautrock grooves of ‘Underdog’, a grandiloquent yet graceful near cousin of Ian Brown’s ‘FEAR’, is followed by the inevitable arrival of ‘Shoot The Runner’, before new single ‘Fire’ locks into more familiar glam-stomp trajectory.
But whereas once you could have set your watch by the segue into supersize chorus, now they’re dropping the gauche excess and exercising a measure of control, building a taut, spiralling groove rather than just shooting their load.
Their deleted limited-edition single – the Tarantino-shaped rockabilly of ‘Fast Fuse’ – makes us understand why their record label made them keep it low-key. It’s too good to be shovelled out. Its flipside, ‘Thick As Thieves’, delivers them a winsome Coral-alike mid-set acoustic spot that can finally replace Serge’s dirge – the eternal lowlight of ‘British Legion’ – in their setlist, decorated with delicate sonic baubles.
Of course it all ends in Tom parting the crowd like Moses at a bar mitzvah for the customary row-yer-boat of ‘LSF’. Crowd goes predictably bonkers, fade out. But the real story is how much sleeker they’ve become. In the same week that The Horrors staged their own re-Neu!-al, a world away from Bethnal Green, Kasabian are proving they’re pretty things as much as bruisers.