Keane live in Bristol
- By Pam McIntyre -
- Jun 08, 2012
The atmosphere at the Bristol Academy is electric as the band leave the stage, and builds into something of a religious fervour as the chanting, stomping crowd calls them back. Beside me, a girl who has been whooping and wailing throughout almost hyperventilates in the crescendo, only held up by her equally entranced boyfriend. The arms, all aloft, obscure the band as they return triumphantly to the stage, but it's possible to catch the upturned denim collar, the sweat patch soaked into the back of the jacket as the frontman bounds into view. What gods of rock could be the inspiration for this mania, this unequivocal hero worship?
Er... it's Keane. And the superfan beside me is no teenage groupie wannabe, ripe with youth and the giddy thrill of her first live experience. She looks about 52 and it is her balding husband’s arms around her, moving to the music as she does. But they have been keeping this up for over an hour and a half, with a stamina that has stayed constant and would put most young gig-goers to shame. This is a crowd that knows every word to every song, and they need no encouragement when invited to sing them out loud. The band, although humbled, initially uncertain, feed off it with growing confidence. Tom Chaplin, a man not renowned for his witty onstage repartee, even makes some jokes. ‘You’re a bit quiet tonight, aren’t you?’ is about the best response he can make at first to the raucous melee below, who are eager to disprove him with even more vehemence. ‘Shut up and play the drums!’ he manages later to Richard Hughes, after the drummer says something forgettably banal; the crowd gleefully bend double with the banter.
Keane really, really want to be rock stars. One of the most perplexing moments of the evening comes right at the start, when they make their entrance to 'Baby Missiles' by War on Drugs, a band whose dirty, ragged swagger they could never hope to match or emulate. Their new material from fourth full-length album 'Strangelands', embraced wholeheartedly by this crowd who have learned every single cliché and bark it back at the band, sounds like Keane doing The Killers doing Bruce Springsteen, especially during ‘On The Road’ and ‘Silenced By The Night’. But it’s all delivered with such passion and energy that you’re able to disregard the fact that most of the songs have popped right out of Keane’s trusty anthem generator, perfectly packaged yet largely indistinct from one another, with staple fist-punching woahhhhs and uniformly pulsating drums. It’s the stuff of a Top Gear compilation-buyer's wet dream.
But the band are having fun. The crowd are having fun. And as Louis Walsh really actually might say, it’s fun. Tom Chaplin’s clenched fists and outstretched arms are more High School Musical than School of Rock, but it’s fun. ‘Neon River’ is uplifting, catchy, and a definite highlight of both the album and the evening, garnering one of the biggest cheers. ‘Give it up for Tim Rice-Oxley!’ exclaims Chaplin, as the band’s Chief Of Cheesy Platitudes closes the song with a shimmering palette of piano, ‘how about Mozart over there!’ And sometimes it’s rather moving. Album closer ‘Sea Fog’ is understated and haunting. ‘Bedshaped’ and ‘We Might As Well Be Strangers’, the kind of songs that once had certain commentators questioning the band’s nocturnal bladder control, sound kind of epic. I look around me and the kids are losing their shit. Or their parents are.
Much has been made of Keane’s ‘return to form’ on Strangelands, and a lot of the new material carries the sentiment of coming home after some time in the wilderness – indeed one of the most enthusiastically received tonight, ‘Disconnected’, is an oddly jaunty singalong about walking in circles, ‘the blind leading the blind’. It’s as if Keane have denied their true audience for so long, with 'Perfect Symmetry'’s wanderings in 80s synth-pop and their hilarious foray into hip-hop on 'Night Train', and have now returned on their knees, begging forgiveness, brandishing big choruses. One reviewer described the new album as ‘David Cameron Rock’, and while they share with our esteemed PM that same look of fleshy, pink-faced privilege, and the fact neither will ever be cool, a distinction can be made in that what Keane set out to do they do very well indeed. And it’s those robust melodies, their brazen appeal to drivetime radio, that these crazy kids, tonight, have paid their money for - and they are richly rewarded.
It seems Keane are terribly British, their self-deprecation, their ability to laugh at the fact that they’ve been, well, a bit crap really – and consequently they’re a terribly easy target for abuse, a lot if it justified. But in this audience, surrounded by people enjoying themselves with such unbridled, unashamed abandon, it’s hard to stay cynical; in fact I feel almost envious of their capacity to have such unselfconscious fun in these dark, anxious days. So this new-old Keane could be the perfect band for our strange times, their music a fitting soundtrack for a country waving flags, going backwards.
This guest blog complies to Virgin.com terms & conditions.