Determined to prevent themselves from being branded ‘has-beens’, the Kaiser Chiefs brought their energetic spring tour to the Southampton Guildhall this Monday, and certainly did everything in their power to convince us that they wouldn’t be calling it a day any time soon.
Recently losing their drummer of fifteen years, Nick Hodgson, to a thirst for “new challenges”, certainly hasn’t impacted on the band’s dynamic, and certainly not Ricky Wilson’s addictive and definitive stage presence. Though the latest we’ve heard from them is a compilation album entitled ‘Souvenir’ that came out last year, everyone left the gig with a sense that the Kaiser Chiefs are still in the game.
We arrived during an eager and promising set from a relatively new group, This Many Boyfriends, with an engaging performance from flaxen-haired frontman Richard Brooke. With a vocal sound not unlike The Smiths, and guitar tones reminiscent of The Maccabees, it was nothing we hadn’t heard before, but the chatty, satirical lyrics gave the indie four-piece a refreshing new edge. Though without the technical smoothness and practiced cohesion of the following two acts, they did succeed in gathering a sizeable crowd, and altogether came off pretty well for a small, unheard-of band. After a sedative, yet no less enjoyable, selection from the smooth-cut, high-collared members of Zulu Winter, the crowd at The Guildhall were at this point sufficiently inebriated and ready for something a bit more up-beat.
By the time the Kaisers appeared onstage, the Guildhall’s turn-out had almost tripled in size. Having felt with Boyfriends and Zulu more like we were in the middle of a large pub gig than a proper venue, this was abandoned when the lights fell and the Chiefs began their dramatic entrance. Though generally considered unfair to define a group by its frontman, Ricky Wilson is the undeniable face of the Kaiser Chiefs. Whilst his band-mates filed quietly onstage to a general cheer, his entrance quite honestly shook the building. He entered with hands outstretched, yelling into and spinning his microphone, making sure everyone knew that this wouldn’t be a walk in the park.
They fired the starting gun with ‘Thank You Very Much’, an excellent choice, with a typically addictive, jumpy bridge and shout-y chorus that we’ve learnt to expect from the Chiefs. Following it immediately with ‘Kinda Girl You Are’ and ‘Everything is Average Nowadays‘, they kept the mood alive and the crowd interested. Ricky Wilson was up to regular antics, climbing up the left amp to rap on the speakers and convince the crowd it was “Too Quiet!” When he wasn’t Jaggering up and down the stage, barking out charismatic vocals, he was looming over and into the crowd, grabbing the hands of screaming women, appearing much more like a charismatic twenty-something Harry Styles than a thirty-five year old in denim.
The set progressed with the relatively new ‘Little Shocks’, ‘Like It Too Much’ and ‘Good Days, Bad Days’, taking the tempo down and letting us rest our legs, before launching into the iconic ‘Everyday I Love you Less and Less’, which sent excitement levels shooting back up again, sustained further by a couple of their heyday tracks, ‘Born to Be a Dancer’ and ‘Modern Way’. They chose then to introduce a new track, appropriately titled ‘Living Underground’, before which Ricky owned up that it had “been a long time”. Though admittedly not as catchy as anything from Employment (2004), it was still a solid track, proving to us that they are keen to keep this band alive.
They proceeded to finish off the set by borrowing a selection of tracks from Yours Truly, Angry Mob (2007) and Off With Their Heads (2008), teasing us with crowd-pleasers like ‘Never Miss a Beat’ and personal favourite ‘Ruby’, before closing with a predictable onslaught of their most popular and punchy ‘I Predict a Riot’ and ‘Angry Mob’, sending the audience into eager anticipation for the encore. The encore itself was memorable, with the appearance of curious onstage lamps, and Ricky Wilson making an odd request for gaffa tape, so he could fasten one of them to his mic and hold it ceremoniously over the crowd during the final songs. Musically, however, it failed to meet the standard. Though nowhere near downbeat, it may have been a better option to finish with something more along the lines of I Predict, Ruby or Everyday, rather than closing on a moderate high with a Stranglers cover and ‘Oh My God’.
Though we have to give kudos to all of the Chiefs for an excellent, well-tuned and nigh-on flawless performance, and a veritable commendation to their new live drummer Vijay who took his task head-on and performed fantastically, the general feeling after the gig had finished was that it was Ricky Wilson who had sustained the youthful energy of previous years, the same energy that drew me to them when watching them for the first time at Reading Festival 2009. Throughout the gig I couldn’t help but feel that his band-mates were far too stoic, too sensible, in comparison to Wilson who, despite his age, is still giving it his all.