April 19, 2012 @ House of Blues, Chicago, IL
Onstage in Chicago's House of Blues, the Kaiser Chiefs are belting out "Never Miss A Beat" which is heightened by the wailing cry of Andrew White's guitar which is further accentuated by singer Ricky Wilson leaping off the stage for a beer run. Once behind the bar, he helps himself to a drink, jumps on top of the bar and proceeds to work up the crowd into a tizzy asking if Chicago is the loudest city around to which the crowd rapturously replies with incensed roars. As the band made their way into "Take My Temperature", Wilson stood on top of the amps on the side of the stage where the crowd hung on his every word and action. By this point in the 100-minute performance the Chicago crowd would have followed him to the depths of hell. If he asked, Cubs fans would have followed him to Comiskey Park and White Sox fans would have blindly let him lead them to Wrigley. He had them wrapped around his finger that tightly.
We all dream about seeing a band with a mammoth stage presence inside the intimacy of a club. Chicago's wish was granted when the English band the Kaiser Chiefs took to the House of Blues stage on a stop in between their two performances at Coachella. They didn't merely show up to perform; the slaughtered the audience with their high-energy set dripping with late 70's and early 80's UK sounds and influences. With a dash of the Jam, Joy Division and the Smiths, the Kaiser Chiefs don't merely mimic the template put forth by the aforementioned acts so much as fully embody their spirit and transport a ardent performance made for disenfranchised school kids ready to let off some steam. Many acts on the landscape today are mere mimics of what has come before but the Kaiser Chiefs come off as descendents to the throne. The band's fourth album, Start the Revolution Without Me was released under the title of The Future Is Medieval in June of 2011 in the UK. In a wholly original marketing plan, the UK release allowed fans to make their own version of their record and even share in the profit participation if their version of the record was bought in larger quantities. The US release just came out in March of 2012, but I'm happy to say the US edition of thirteen songs is extremely strong and possibly the record that best exemplifies their stage shows with the help of producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie) and Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams).
The Kaiser Chiefs delivered an onslaught of music that poured off the concert stage, delivering a potent high-energy mix of all four of their studio albums. The band never relented and continually pushed the crowd further and further to a brink of physical release. "On The Run" was a splendid escape to the other side with solid and punching guitar chords with a chorus made for the open road. "Everyday I Love You Less and Less" found the band building a rapport with the crowd eventually whipping them up in a hurricane where the option of shelter wasn't on the menu. "Little Shocks" featured verses full of jangly guitars which congealed with the rhythm section creating a dense unyielding foundation until the chorus where they let it roar. Keyboardist Nick Baines is the brick layer of the band. As drummer Nick Hodgson and bassist Simon Rix pour the concrete for which all else will stand, Baines adroitly builds the songs up with effortless flourishes or in the case of "Na Na Na Na Naa" he compliments with rhythm with frenzied chop-stick notes. A surprising double-shot of "I Predict A Riot" and "Modern Way" appeared early in the set. For most acts, these would forever be encore songs, but not for the Kaiser Chiefs. Despite shifting the order of their songs nightly, the band always appears to be peaking. The anthem "I Predict a Riot" swallowed the crowd whole with its sweet "la-la-la-la" chorus that soared. The performance of "Modern Ways" served as a reminder that crowd size is irrelevant. The Kaiser Chiefs bring their A-game every night whether it's a soccer stadium in the UK or a club in the US. In many ways, the US audiences who watched the band during this most recent tour has seen them at the pinnacle of their powers. In a stadium, the band goes above and beyond to make the bond. The same mindset exists in the US, except this time they go eye-to-eye with the crowd. In the bleeding wreckage of our lives, it I refreshing when you feel the band members are one of us and not above the audience. The band pushes themselves and their audience to the limits. It's important to note that just because a band is hard-wired for stadium crowds does not mean they can pull off more cozy performances. There's a reason U2 has rarely performed intimate club shows in the last twenty-five years, because they would have to re-learn the craft. It takes more than mere energy to successfully be great when you can see the white of their eyes.
If you listen to the each Kaiser Chiefs record more than once, the choruses slide inside of you until they're a part of you. Their chanting and anthemic songs are taken to an indescribable level of concentration in concert. They house pop qualities without every dipping its toes into the pond of pop music. The call and response of "Ruby" made you feel as if you were in a UK soccer stadium as bodies swelled, arms raised and the fans sung the overlapping chorus of "ah-ah-ah" and "Ruby-Ruby-Ruby" perfectly. The band has always had the capacity to create these highly contagious singles and "Ruby" may be their greatest. I have to point out the brilliant playing of bass player Simon Rix, who does more than simply keep rhythm, but serves more or less as a second guitarist giving their sound an raw edge that echoes the late and great John Entwistle of the Who. "Starts With Nothing" found vocalist Ricky Wilson crooning like a deep throated Morrissey. While the song had several shades of the Smiths, the Kaiser Chiefs are anything but imitators. They immaculately emulate what has come before with their own fanatic passion thrown into the mixture. Bass player Simon Rix grooves were awe-inspiring as he weaved in and out of the musical traffic while drummer Nick Hodgson beautifully evoked the calming jazz tempos of Charlie Watts while being able to shift into the madman hysterics of Keith Moon. "Starts With Nothing" covered a lot of musical territory in less than six minutes with hushes, wails and an ending static jam that was downright glorious. It's striking on their recent US release of Start the Revolution Without Me but it's mouth gapingly great in concert.
Never for a second did the Kaiser Chiefs believe in restraining themselves. They have no fear in hitting the stage running letting their emotions flow out into the audience. Their music is an exhilarating blend of classic rock paired with alternative madness. Owing much of their history to great UK Bands whose names begin with the word "the" (the Who, the Jam and the Smiths), the Kaiser Chiefs may have stolen a few tricks here and there, but it's imperative to point out they have forged their own identity through these spirited performance and continuous consistency in the studio. Their concerts feel like unrelenting marathons where there is no option to give up. The set list, while changed up nightly, was executed perfectly without a single lagging moment. They built momentum like few others can. Closing the show was the Employment cut "Oh My God" which found Wilson diving into the crowd. Watching the riot-like crowd from the side, I looked up to see those in the side opera boxes hanging far out of them almost as if they wanted to leap down to the floor so they could take part in the fist-pumping discharge. The crowd swung and swayed on every word chanting the chorus. "Oh my God I can't believe it / I've never been this far away from home" which may have been true for the five members of the Kaiser Chiefs, but they made the Chicago stage their home and in turn Chicago welcomed them with open arms.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter