They’re a little bit Beatles and a little bit Buzzcocks. And they’re not unlike a post-punk Blondie, albeit with a male singer.
They’re England’s Kaiser Chiefs, and they regaled House of Blues Cleveland with an 80-minute set of upbeat rock and roll chronicling the travails of modern education, employment, and affairs of the heart.
The band was formed over a dozen years ago in West Yorkshire (Leeds), when St. Mary’s schoolmates Nick “Peanut” Baines and Simon Rix teamed with drummer Nick Hodgson in Runston Parva. The name was whittled down to just Parva as the group graduated university absorbed new members—and was dropped entirely when their debut album failed to set the world alight.
Rebooting as Kaiser Chiefs, the quintet hit pay dirt with Employment—which yielded the major U.K. single in “I Predict a Riot.” The guys toured relentlessly, cultivating a devoted following with subsequent albums Yours Truly, Angry Mob (2007), Off With Their Heads (2008), and The Future Is Medieval (2011). The Chiefs drew attention with a 2005 appearance in Moscow and a slot on Bob Geldof’s Live-8 in Philadelphia and earned coveted support slots on tour with U2 and Green Day. They’ve played Pinkpop and the Isle of White festivals, and helped close the 2012 Olympic Games in London with a cover of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard.” A 2012 singles collection, Souvenir, brought newbies up to speed on what they’d been missing.
Tuesday’s show leaned heavy on both Employment (2005) and the Chiefs’ new album, Education, Education, Education and War (2014). Recorded at Maze Studios in Atlanta under the supervision of producer Ben H. Allen III (Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley), Education finds the guys expanding their gritty guitar sound without alienating longtime fans.
The scrappy new “Ruffians on Parade” gave HOB attendees a sampling of Education and set a fairly frenetic pace for vocalist Ricky Wilson, who never really stopped moving all night. Bassist Rix locked in synch with drummer Vijay Mistay (who replaced Hodgson in 2013), establishing sturdy grooves and steady tempos for left-handed guitarist Andrew “Whitey” White, who colored the mix with serrated Les Paul riffs and tasty, trebly fills. Manning a bank of keyboards and synths overlooking Mistay’s kit, “Peanut” Baines triggered lush chords and quirky electronic samples while bobbing his head to the beat.
“Everyday I Love You Less,” “Everything Is Average Nowadays,” and “Factory Gates” sent spectators into the past with Wilson, who ditched his denim jacket for maximum comfort and economy of motion. The curly-haired Rix also tossed his jacket, thrumming his Fender bass in a T-shirt, jeans and boots.
“Little Shocks” was paired nicely with school-skipping anthem “Never Miss a Beat,” then the band reeled back for the ballad-like “Coming Home.” Employment / Education cuts “Modern Way,” “You Can Have It All,” and “Bows and Arrows”—a new track unleashed on Rolling Stone’s website last winter—populated the pulsating middle-set.
The Chiefs’ #1 U.K. smash “Ruby” buttressed nicely with the snarky, rebellious “I Predict a Riot,” which had most in attendance singing and jumping in unison with the red-belted Wilson. Another fresh tune, Issued on the band’s own SoundCloud in late ‘2013, “Misery Company,” showcased the musician’s individual talents—but “Angry Mob” highlighted the Kaisers’ cohesiveness as a performing unit. Encores included the band’s most recent single, the stirring “Meanwhile Up in Heaven,” along with one of its oldest, the infectious “Oh My God.”
The club wasn’t crowded when openers Streets of Laredo took the stage at 8:00pm, but most on hand gathered in the pit down front and rewarded the New Zealand-bred, Brooklyn-based sextet’s ’70s-flavored folk-rock with enthusiasm. Presumably named for Larry McMurtry’s western novel, Streets served up a half hour of uppity, percussive guitar-driven tunes from the EP Volume I & Volume II.
We’re not sure who plays what in the fun-loving troupe, but at last check Streets consisted of Daniel, David, and Sarah Jane Gibson, Si Moore, and Tom Darlow. The band boasts two stand-up drummers (eschewing the traditional sit-down kit), one of whom decorated the songs with trumpet blasts and keyboard flourishes. The full-bearded guitarist tweaked a feedback noise-generated in between chords on his black Gibson whilst the long-haired singer strummed an acoustic, and shaggy-haired bassist churned rhythms on a Hofner-like bass (a la Paul McCartney, circa 1964). Sarah Jane assumed lead vocal duties on one song, and also played a handheld, voice-modulated keyboard.
Good stuff: The Streets of Laredo weave the unplugged appeal and raconteur richness old-school songwriters (James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon) with the distortion pedal punk moxie of today’s top rockers (Lumineers, Arcade Fire).
The crowd had swelled in numbers by the time Kaiser Chiefs bounded onstage (9:10pm or so) but never quite filled up. Which was fine by us: It meant the hundreds on hand at HOB were diehards, all of whom came for a good time—and had one—without having to endure the sweaty, smelly, shoulder-to-shoulder discomfort of a capacity sellout.