Kaiser Chiefs are a strange beast. Starting off as a welcome return to the light-hearted melodicism and sheer pop power of Britpop and the likes of XTC, over-familiarity and their careerist second album have left them slightly unpalatable. At the risk of sounding condescending, sure, ‘the people’ have got into them – the same tabloid-reading masses they rail against on ‘The Angry Mob’ – but the discerning music lover (ahem) has perhaps been left a little cold by their eagerness to please.
In a live setting, however, this eagerness is a plus. Frontman Ricky Wilson is forever bounding around the stage, pogoing continuously and scissor-kicking with athletic vigour. At one point, he even runs over to a bar at the side of the audience, pours himself a pint and starts introducing the band – now, that’s stagecraft. The fact that the lead vocals are also capably doubled by drummer and main songwriter Nick Hodgson leaves Wilson free to act the fool, much to the crowd’s delight.
Tracks like ‘Everyday I Love You Less And Less’ and ‘Highroyds’ are perfect distillations of their happy-go-lucky pop, with the crowd chanting along like they’re at a football match. The atmosphere is catching and even us banks of journos on the balcony are tapping our feet and singing along.
The main problem with the gig is the fact that the band are teamed up with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Not to disparage their, or arranger David Arnold’s, talent, but the match simply doesn’t work. Kasabian could get away with orchestral accompaniment at last year’s Electric Proms, due to their songs’ overblown psychedelic swagger. Unfortunately, the string stabs and low brass rumbles on tracks like ‘I Predict A Riot’ are too portentous for the flimsy, carefree nature of the track. Arcade Fire’s ‘Intervention’ can take the embellishments, but a song based around the lines ‘watching the people get lairy / is not very pretty I tell thee’ doesn’t fare too well with a 64-piece orchestra.
The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain’s rendition of the group’s number one single ‘Ruby’ is phenomenal, improving the song an infinite amount, but Kaiser Chiefs are undoubtedly better when performing on their own, when we can really wallow in the disposable nature of their immediate choruses and catchy ‘la la la’’s.
Tellingly, the most stunning moment is when Hodgson comes out alone at the start of the set to perform ‘Boxing Champ’ on the piano – it’s the most minimal song of the night, and all the more affecting for it.
Words: Tom Pinnock