There’s something irresistible about getting the chance to see a band who regularly fill stadiums perform at a small venue. Admittedly, part of the appeal is knowing that you’re one of a limited number of fans who’ve managed to procure a ticket to an event which will invariably have sold out in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. For a band like Kasabian, who are widely-regarded as one of the best live acts in Britain, the relative paucity of tickets only intensifies the excitement, imbuing the gig with a feeling of exclusivity which sends hype levels through the roof.
The scarcity of attendees also achieves another effect, which is to draw attention to just how varied your average Kasabian crowd actually is. Packed inside Birmingham’s grungy O2 Academy is a veritable mixture of young and old, reserved and bold. It’s a combination reflected in the opposing styles of the band’s two leading members, guitarist Sergio Pizzorno and lead-singer Tom Meighan; the former’s is an indie/glam rock fusion, somewhere between Noels Gallagher and Fielding, while the latter’s bomber jacket and Lennon-esque sunglasses are straight from the handbook of the 21st century’s latest Mod revival.
Such a blend is also present in the music itself. Kasabian are frequently labelled as a ‘lad-rock’ outfit, the spiritual successors to the ‘90s ‘Madchester’ scene, and it’s a territory they seem happy enough to play around in, even if they are hesitant to wholly commit to it. The ‘other side’ of Kasabian has always been the measured and thoughtful approach they take to making music, and indeed the often rather grandiose terms they talk about it in. For Crying Out Loud, the band’s upcoming sixth album, is, according to Pizzorno, all about “saving guitar music from the abyss” it finds itself hurtling towards. Supposedly.
Kasabian have always been fond of making music about going out and getting smashed which is itself the sort of music you want to hear when following such sage advice.
Lofty ambitions then, and ones which inevitably foster high expectations. In fairness, the self-appointed ‘saviours of rock and roll’ do certainly channel its ethos: it’s twenty minutes later than billed when they finally take to the stage for their opening number. A restless energy has been building and it only takes the first few riffs of the new album’s stomping lead single ‘You’re In Love With A Psycho’ for that energy to be immediately released; the crowd roars, surges forward and starts to pulsate in time to the track’s thumping rhythm. Full of retro swagger and ramped up reverb, it’s the kind of single which delights on the first listen, but one which runs the risk of sounding a touch flat the more you do listen to it. The crowd don’t seem to mind though, as the first pit of the night dutifully opens up in the middle of the room, threatening to swallow up anyone nearby. ‘Bumblebee’, the next song up, provides a glut of crash-heavy drops, while ‘Underdog’ gives us the first taste of one of the many crunching hooks which have given the group legions of adoring fans over the years.
As they power through the snarling ‘Shoot The Runner’ and the synth-oriented smash hit ‘Eez-Eh’ (it’s what ‘easy’ sounds like when chanted on the football terrace), it’s clear that the group have come to create lots of atmosphere and lots of noise. The energy levels are phenomenal, and those who live by the code of ‘go hard or go home’ are egged-on by Meighan’s bravado, who seems to dare them to go even harder. The biggest pop of the night comes, from one of the band’s signature tracks, 2004’s breakout hit ‘Club Foot’. “You’re gonna love this one,” Meighan promises the crowd, “so you’d all best go f***in mental!” The call to arms is met with a renewed spirit and vigour as the now sweat-soaked mass of bodies start to throw each other in all directions, along with plastic pint cups of what one can only hope is lager.
After the acoustic-led ‘La Fée Verte’ brings a brief moment of respite, there’s more new material in the form of the call-and-response inducing ‘God Bless This Acid House’. Kasabian have always been fond of making music about going out and getting smashed which is itself the sort of music you want to hear when following such sage advice. ‘Treat’, the standout track from that album, follows with its pounding bassline and hypnotic hook, and as the track’s looping outro rolls on Pizzorno disappears from stage and reappears on the balcony above to sing down to the adoring masses below in a nice display of showmanship.
…it seems obvious that Kasabian are gearing up to harvest the fruits of their live labours when it comes to the new release, one which promises to be unapologetically loud.
‘L.S.F’ rounds off the set-proper, and in what will surely become their go-to routine in future tours the encore is fronted by the appropriately-named new single ‘Comeback Kid’. It’s by far the best of the new releases, with a stirring horns section in the introduction and a driving, funk-inspired rhythm. “Reap what you sow”, says the chorus, and it seems obvious that Kasabian are gearing up to harvest the fruits of their live labours when it comes to the new release, one which promises to be unapologetically loud. Yet for all their posturing in the press and their pledges to save rock and roll from the deepest darkest depths, the fact remains that guitar music never really went away in the first place.
What Kasabian do provide is evidence to their continuing claim as Britain’s biggest and best live band, and as the crowd heaves once more for finale track ‘Fire’ I find myself thinking how much of a tough act they are to beat. It’s no revelation, of course – Kasabian’s rowdy performances have been renowned for a good number of years – but the show is a solid reiteration of their credentials as a truly outstanding band to go and see perform live, and they are sure to reap the rewards of gigs like when it comes to sales figures. Now, if they could just tone down their grandiosity a little, for crying out loud…
For Crying Out Loud is out 5th May.