Ricky and the boys’ biggest ever gig causes pandemonium. Obviously
Rows and rows of seats tower above us, rising into the dark like Tolkien-esque ramparts, splitting at the seams with thousands of pissed Mancunians. An army of voices are baying for the blood of any skinny-jeaned scenester within a two-mile radius, while the cheap lager flows with the abandon of a Twang aftershow. This isn’t Camden any more, Toto. In fact, this is the second night of Kaiser Chiefs’ run at Manchester’s MEN Arena (there’s no Leeds gig until Elland Road next year, so for now it’s their hometown show) and 18,000 people are packed into an aircraft hangar, where the atmosphere resembles a football match – there’s a load of people selling beer off containers strapped to their backs and drunken girls are hassling NME for not dancing madly enough to The Pigeon Detectives. It’s staggering to realise just how big Kaiser Chiefs have become. Without exception, all 19 tracks of the set, even slightly shaky opener ‘Everything Is Average Nowadays’, are greeted like they’re a ‘Ruby’ or an ‘I Predict A Riot’. The stop-start intro trick of ‘Everyday I Love You Less And Less’ gets a ridiculous reaction too, leaving everyone teetering on the brink before the Kaisers rip right back into the first verse. Even the twisty, protracted outro of ‘The Angry Mob’ is chanted louder than Ricky Wilson can scream it. Perhaps ironic when you consider that, now they’re playing to crowds of this size, a significant proportion of the Kaisers’ audience must read the papers every day, like what they like, hate what they hate, look a bit fickle and not quite realise the song is about them.
The requisite crowd-pleasing action is present and correct, of course, although Ricky is uncharacteristically quiet, bar a few dedications (Simon’s Uncle Hugh and, bizarrely, Peanut get a shout out). Most of Ricky’s chat is delivered with one aim: to whip up the crowd with his compere schtick. It generally goes a bit like this:
Ricky: “Do you wanna hear a new song?”
Crowd: “Yeah!”Ricky: “I said, ‘DO YOU WANNA HEAR A NEW SONG?!”Crowd: “YEAH!” If it wasn’t for that lovely check shirt and waistcoat combo, it could be Bruce Forsyth up there.
The Kaisers’ performance is also considerably toughened up compared to when NME saw them a few months ago at the Electric Proms, where there was far too little rock or roll and far too much tacked-on orchestra. It’s all changed tonight though, as the guitar stutters feedback and the drums clatter –
perhaps it’s just the muddy, appalling sound in the hangar, but Kaiser Chiefs suddenly sound gritty.
The last minute of mid-set highlight ‘Highroyds’ is particularly stacked, as the band deliver an unexpected and pummelling garage-rock groove. The Leeds lot even seem to be slowly embracing experimentation. Before closer ‘Oh My God’, the lights go down and Whitey lets loose a good 30 seconds of spacey guitar echoes – OK, they’re hardly matching Deerhoof in the freak-out stakes, but for the more casual fans here it probably seems like The Mars Volta have just parachuted into the arena to assault them with some prog opus.All the tracks from ‘Employment’ are given a new lease of life and sound vibrant again – even the terminally overplayed ‘I Predict A Riot’ – with songs like ‘Saturday Night’ and ‘Born To Be A Dancer’ exuding good vibes like vintage glam hits. Some of the second album tunes like ‘I Can Do It Without You’ fare less well, being deficient in style but unfortunately packed with cynicism and hackneyed lyrics. They fail to sound fun, which is surely the most important role of any pop group. Yet not once are the crowd distracted from the mission statement: they’re gonna have a good time whatever.
The two new songs Kaiser Chiefs play tonight suggest a slight change of tack in the future, though. ‘Never Miss A Beat’ and ‘You Want History’ are infused with much more of a dancey post-punk sound than we’re used to, the first taking a moody Joy Division route while the latter whacks a buzzy keyboard riff that wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Myths Of The Near Future’ over ambiguous lyrics. On first listen, the songs seem edgier than anything else they’ve done – the crowd remaining silent throughout, before erupting at the end like Manc magma.
There’s little need for invention or banter in the hour and 20 minutes Kaiser Chiefs are onstage, just a quick-fire session of already-classic pop songs. ‘Everyday I Love You Less And Less’ and ‘The Angry Mob’ in particular capture exactly the right balance between sassiness, edge and melody like great pop songs in the vein of XTC, T.Rex and Blur should do. On the other hand ‘Ruby’, ‘Oh My God’ and their chart-bothering ilk might be old-hat for some, but not for the thousands who scream along with every “Na na na” and “Ooooooohhhhhh” the Leeds lads throw at them. Kaiser Chiefs have done the unthinkable – an indie band putting on a stadium show with the fevered atmosphere of the Astoria? You
better believe it.