Concert Review: Kaiser Chiefs and Honduras at Music Hall of Williamsburg: 2/19/2014
There is nothing better than live music.
As a serious consumer of popular culture I try to take in every kind of live art or entertainment form that the city has to offer. Comedy shows, museum exhibitions, TV show tapings, live theater – I take them all in and I enjoy it all. Nights like last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg remind though that at its best there is absolutely nothing better than live music.
Kaiser Chiefs are a band that I probably don’t know as well I should. Talking to some friends that joined me at the show, I know I’m not alone in that regard. Even for fans of indie or alternative or popular punk music, this band seems to have slipped through the cracks. Their peak popularity came in the mid-2000s, with a few hit songs you know but when pressed perhaps couldn’t place the band name. We all know and love “Ruby“. We all know and love “I Predict a Riot“. If you’ve been paying just a little attention you know (and yes, love) “Everyday I Love You Less and Less” and “The Angry Mob“. Suddenly, before you know it, this band whose name you weren’t sure you recognized has three amazing songs and at least a half dozen more like them that are plenty to carry an incredible, energetic, floor-shaking show.
And that’s what the Kaiser Chiefs did. They came into Brooklyn – their first time in the U.S. in a long time – and blew the doors off of the small club. Lead singer Ricky Wilson had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hands right from the get-go, crushing it with the chant-along “Never Miss a Beat” early in the show. Wilson brings exactly what you want from a front-man – he engages the crowd, makes the room feel smaller than it is with his interaction and general friendliness (see the photo to the right – Wilson brought a male audience member onto the stage for an impromptu dance), but doesn’t overwhelm with too much banter. Though they’ve been performing for over a decade and have played in front of tens of thousands on the main stage at major festivals, Wilson appears at all times to be genuinely happy on the smaller stage, happy to perform. The show doesn’t feel scripted – you feel as if your buddy is jamming on stage just for you – and yet it remains highly professional. It’s a delicate line to toe as a lead singer and Wilson does it as well as anyone.
Of course it helps to have possibly the best one-two song combination imaginable to bring the crowd to a frenzy. “I Predict a Riot” was an obvious highlight of the night, after which Wilson appeared spent. He collapsed in front of the drum kit and took a few swigs of his Amstel Light. But before the energy level could die down he jumped back up and the band launched into “Ruby”. I’ve talked before about the power of a good 1-2 to completely make a concert. With the crowd singing along at the tops of their lungs, fists pumping to the sky, I found myself completely lost in the music, just then having my moment of epiphany – there is absolutely nothing better than live music.
Two songs later – the finale of the main set – Wilson finally broke the wall and came into the crowd to sing “The Angry Mob”. Perched from a pole halfway back into the crowd he had people looking and singing at him from all directions. Then, when it was time to raise the mob to another level, Wilson walked to the center of the floor, cleared a little space for himself and sang over and over again from inside a circle of screaming fans (including me a mere two feet away), “We are the angry mob …” It was the kind of shared experience that had us all high-fiving and bro-hugging, finally exhaling with the simple word “wow.” And just when an encore could have been anti-climactic, the band once again raised the energy level in the crowd to unbelievable heights by closing with the rousing “Oh My God“.
If I have just one complaint it’s this – I’m not sure I’m completely on board with the band’s new music. Singing the new single “Coming Home” and several other songs from their forthcoming album Education, Education, Education & War (the full set list is below), the Kaiser Chiefs declared that they were “a new band.” To some extent that’s true. Performed live, with the crowd buzzing from the rest of the set, the songs were pretty well received as far as new material goes. But it’s clear that the pace of the new material is markedly slower than everything that came before. Speed is a hallmark of a Kaiser Chiefs song and the new album seems to be missing that. Strangely, I don’t blame the band for this change. They are just changing with the times. Whereas bands like Kaiser Chiefs (I’m thinking the Hives, the Vines, even the Strokes) thrived in the early-mid 2000s with a punk sound that was still accessible to a mainstream audience, the mainstream is now a softer, more melodic place. (A recent example: The Dum Dum Girls went from low-fi garage rock to ’80s-like indie pop over the course of 3 albums. The Strokes did the same over 5.) A quick look at a sampling of the indie bands that have played Saturday Night Live over the past year and a half tells a good story: Passion Pit, fun, Phoenix, Of Monsters and Men, Vampire Weekend, HAIM, Imagine Dragons. Bands like the ones that broke through in the first half of the last decade – the Strokes, the White Stripes, Jet, Modest Mouse – don’t exist anymore, and if they do, they are softening up their act. I think the title of my favorite Kaiser Chiefs songs says it best – “Everything Is Average Nowadays“. I wonder who else thought about today’s music when they heard that song last night.
That said, punk music will never die. Mainstream success may be far less likely but that doesn’t stop kids from making great punk music. Proof of that came in the form of the night’s opening act, Honduras. I have no idea where these guys came from (they hail from Brooklyn but sound like Manchester) but they’re about to take the world by storm. Invited to open for Kaiser Chiefs just two days before the show, without even an EP under their belt yet (it comes out next week) they brought their A game and had a good-sized crowd entertained with songs no one had ever heard before. That’s a much harder task than it sounds – especially in jaded Brooklyn – but the explosive 30 minute set had everyone in early attendance thoroughly warmed up for the Kaiser Chiefs. It’s difficult to describe the sound of Honduras – I’ve seen them compared to Arctic Monkeys. I’d say they are like the bastard child of the Sex Pistols and Blur. Stream the EP (made available on BrooklynVegan just hours before the show) and decide for yourself. Their record release show is March 1st at Radio Bushwick. Hopefully I’ll be there.
Update: Another review of the show with some excellent photos can be found at the We All Want Someone to Shout For blog.