Live Review: Kaiser Chiefs with Streets of Laredo at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 18th June 2014

By on Friday, 20th June 2014 at 2:00 pm

Last December, Kaiser Chiefs unveiled the first song from their then upcoming album ‘Education, Education, Education and War’, ‘Misery Company’. The song didn’t sound as much as a departure as might have been expected; frontman Ricky Wilson himself made a light reference to drummer and former primary songwriter Nick Hodgson’s departure during their show in DC Wednesday night. “Last time we were here, Nick was in the dressing room up there, practicing guitar. I thought that was strange. Six months later, he announced he was leaving the band.” Then he turned to bassist Simon Rix, saying to the audience, “I saw Simon practising guitar earlier…”, causing Rix and the crowd to laugh. Thankfully, the new album isn’t a laugh at all: it’s a strong but different record that comes across as a clear signal that the Yorkshire band is undergoing positive evolution that will keep them in the business for some time to come.

On paper, Streets of Laredo seemed like a mismatch as an opening act for the Kaisers. Folk pop shouldn’t work with a band famous for raising their fists with a sneer, yeah? However, as their set wore on, their selection for this American tour made far more sense. The seven-member strong band, which includes two three guitarists, two percussionists and a trumpet player, are originally from New Zealand, though I made the mistake of going off the location listed on their Twitter account, Brooklyn, as being where they were actually from. Guess they’ve relocated?

Streets of Laredo at 9:30 Club

The band’s core is a family affair: brothers Dave and Dan Gibson and Dave’s wife Sarahjane are joined by several friends and long-time collaborators in this band. Both brothers play up their Kiwi angle: Dave says that Americans have trouble understanding what he says and makes a point to phonetically spell out their band’s name, and young brother Dan quips, “if you see any prisoners, send them up to the green room. We invited them!” Haha.

But we’re here to talk about their music. Based on the press release, I was expecting a folk pop fest like a cross between Milo Greene and Grouplove, and initially, they sounded exactly that (see ‘Lonsdale Line’). However, as the set wore on, other sides of the group were shown. When Dave introduced his “hot” wife Sarahjane taking the lead on a song, I’m sure embarrassing her by the description, I think everyone was surprised by her vocal delivery, recalling ‘60s female greats like Lesley Gore and Connie Francis. It certainly seemed out of left field for me, though I can see songs written around her voice to add another interesting layer to the band’s catalogue. The Grouplove comparison fits well when it comes to the joyful ‘Girlfriend’ (listen below), and pleasing Beach Boys-esque harmonies are peppered throughout other numbers. Earlier this month, they released in America their debut album; a debut album is purported to be on the way in autumn, so watch this space.

Coming onstage to the forceful strains of Edwin Starr’s ‘War (What Is It Good For?)’ gave the Kaiser Chiefs’ proceedings a slightly humourous, slightly aggro flavor. ‘The Factory Gates’ opens their new album, and its frenetic pace and almost Halloween-ish keys was chosen as the gig’s opening number too. It was a great, energetic beginning to what was to be a pretty much perfect set. Some synthesiser technical difficulties followed, leading to Wilson trying to lead his troops admirably while they scrambled, briefly, to figure out what they could play without synths. No trouble there: ‘Na Na Na Na Naa’ and ‘Every Day I Love You Less and Less’ from their 2005 debut ‘Employment’ came out swinging, as if 10 years had never passed.

After the technical difficulties were fixed, it was nothing but smooth sailing for Wilson and co. from then on out. I had brought my cousin’s daughter with me to the show for her first ever 9:30 experience, and for a first show, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better gig. With so much amazing back catalogue material to plunder for their set list, they could have easily relied on fan favourites and not given as much attention to the new songs as they did. This probably would have suited most of the fans just fine; I was quite worried the two super fans in front of me might faint during ‘Ruby ‘, You Could Have It All’ and ‘The Angry Mob’.

But doing such would have been doing their talent a grave disservice. Especially if you hadn’t heard the new album yet, seeing and hearing the band perform songs from it would have an eye-opener. ‘Coming Home’ and ‘Meanwhile Up in Heaven’ are beautiful in their own ways; the latter was used to open the encore. Both songs show a softer side to the band, and I don’t mean that they’ve become Coldplay overnight. No, what I mean they’re writing differently and amazingly, these songs remind you immediately that Ricky Wilson has a fantastic voice that you can forget in the haze of the raucousness of, say, the mosh pit-inducing ‘I Predict a Riot’. They haven’t lost their edge; they’re just focusing their songwriting talents in another direction.

Throughout the set, Wilson himself alluded to the fact that they were all getting on in age and that one day, “we all have to mature, don’t we?” This is not to say that in any way was the Kaiser Chiefs’ performance any less animated than I would have expected from them in their early days: midway through the gig, Wilson climbed up on top of a bar, jokily ordered a pinot noir from the bemused bartender below him, and serenaded us from atop the bar. He even managed to convince a lighting guy to get the usually static mirrorball above the 9:30 stage to start rotating. Ah yes, the charms of a Yorkshireman. The closing number of ‘Oh My God’ was equal measures of boys in the band-type shenanigans and maturity: unlike the first time I saw them 2 years ago at SXSW 2012, when Wilson jumped on a punter’s shoulders during this song, barking the words at excited fans in the middle of a courtyard in Austin, this time the song was a much more measured affair.

Wilson climbed into the audience all right, but he requested everyone out on the floor to kneel down like we were back in grade school. Naturally, the devoted indulged him in this request. Singing the refrain softly at first, he soon enlisted the help of several punters to sing the lines back to him on the microphone, giving out compliments or insults (“no no no, you must be tone deaf!”) to what he was offered. I guess all that experience on The Voice has changed him, ha! Wilson also mentioned during the show the fact the band have played the 9:30 Club several times now but nowhere bigger in town, but I don’t see something like this happening in a venue any larger. Maybe it is just as well that Wilson and co. play to Washington audiences like this in the future, in a multi-night residency format, so the full extent of their inclusionary performance can be appreciated.

After the cut: Kaiser Chiefs’ set list.

Kaiser Chiefs’ Set List:
The Factory Gates
Na Na Na Na Naa
Every Day I Love You Less and Less
Everything is Average Nowadays
Ruffians on Parade
Little Shocks
Never Miss a Beat
Coming Home
Modern Way
You Can Have It All
Bows and Arrows
I Predict a Riot
Misery Company
The Angry Mob
Meanwhile Up in Heaven
Oh My God

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[…] band evolution we’re witnessing, songs like ‘Meanwhile Up in Heaven’ came across last week at the 9:30 Club as truly beautiful and uplifting. Frankly, I’m tearing up just thinking about it and I’m near […]

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