It was a dark and dreary night…just outside. The wintry chill had returned to lovely VanCity and the skies had decided to open up a bit to vary the greyness of the day. All told, it was rather British. Inside the Commodore Ballroom was another matter entirely. I had arrived super early because, full confession, Kaiser Chiefs are one of my favourite bands. I had a ticket to the show just in case reviewing privileges were denied – I was NOT letting this band pass through Vancouver without seeing them. Plus, this is the show that was originally scheduled for mid-September, but owing to a fantastic opportunity the band had to open for the Foo Fighters (!!!) on their fall tour combined with lead singer Ricky Wilson’s judging commitments on The Voice UK, the assembled did so tonight instead of then. It had been just over three years since their last show here in town.
This evening’s opening band were Priory from Portland, Oregon and they began at 2130 hrs on the nose. They are a five-piece comprising lead guitar (with back-up vocals); a multi-instrumentalist keyboard and bass guitar player, whilst also manning a mixer (powered by Apple) with occasional tambourine plus back-up vocals; rhythm guitar and lead vocalist; drums; and bass guitar (also providing back-up vocals). Their 8-song (I think) set was almost 45 minutes long and they were really good. The singer was chatty with the audience – I couldn’t hear every word but at one point, he recounted a crowdsurfing experience he had had whilst performing in front of an audience of 15-year-old girls. They didn’t know what they were meant to do…if I heard correctly, he did the equivalent of jumping into the crowd, they all scrambled out of the way and went splat. And broke a rib. Continued the show, though, but OWWW! This story was told after around the third song or so. A few songs later, he brought it up again – this time preparing the audience with a surfing itinerary so that the people who wanted to keep him up could move in that general direction…which is what happened, except at that point in the evening, the crowd was perhaps only 12 rows deep, so it didn’t last very long. Back on stage, the experience was described as having been “intense”. Musically Priory reminded me of that groove that has its roots in disco and funk, but their music doesn’t sound like either of those styles, however, that essence produces this amazing energy that propels their songs forward in this pure rock ‘thing’. They have tiny inflections of styles gone past (think of the rhythm section of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and take the disco out – that’s where my brain went first) but play some good, solid rock. Me definitely likey. There was one ending that confused the audience because the song seemed to just peter out, but they were really well received by the perhaps 800 people in attendance at the time. The lead guitarist had a guitar that piqued the curiousity of audience members – a couple of people near me asked him what it was and he said it was a prototype (by who I didn’t catch) – it had blue and red soundpad buttongs that lit up in the dark, and somebody else said Matt Bellamy of Muse has one like it. I don’t remember seeing one when I was at the Muse show last year, but then, my sightlines weren’t fantastic (5’2″ in the crush of things at an arena? Ha!) so this guitar was really noticable this evening. It sounded great – they all did.
I trust the Commodore Ballroom filled up more for the Kaiser Chiefs – I was in the very front (with my new friend from Denmark who flew in to go to the first bunch of shows on this tour (why have I never thought of spending MY holidays like that???) and two guys who had driven 12 hours from Anchorage, Alaska (!!!) to be here tonight), so I couldn’t see to the very back and after the band started, that was NOT the direction I was looking in. The lights dimmed at about quarter to 11 (as scheduled) and Kaiser Chiefs – Simon Rix (bass), Peanut (Nick Baines, keyboards), Ricky Wilson (lead vocalist), VJ (Vijay Mistry, drums), and Whitey (Andrew White, guitar) were finally here again and from the very first notes played and sung, they were ON! “The Angry Mob” led into “Ruffians on Parade”, which went into “Everything is Average Nowadays”, and “Every Day I Love You Less and Less”. I think it was only after the fourth song that the band took enough of a break in playing so Ricky Wilson could talk to the audience. He had told me earlier that his voice wasn’t in the best shape right now, but did he let that stop him? No. Not a smidge. Truly, for the entirety of the show – including the two-song encore, he neither spared himself nor held anything back, be it vocally or the energy level with which he moved about the stage. Business as usual – they’re professionals, they’re there to do a show for all the lovely punters in the hall, and Crikey O’Reilly, did they ever.
For “My Life” you could tell Ricky’s voice was affected, particularly in his higher register and for longer held notes, but he powered through. In his exchanges with the audience, he also made no bones about it either. On occasion he did ask for ‘help’ from the audience, not that they needed any coaxing. Most song choruses had the audience as added chorus anyway, so as far as audience participation was concerned, that box was ticked, with the rest of the band supporting him in any way they could. Ricky IS the front man and with his working the stage, and stepping onto the monitors, and climbing up speakers, twirling the microphone by the cord, standing on the photographers’ bench in the press pit reaching into the audience, standing on the bass drum, flicking and catching a fallen mic stand up to his hand with his foot – multiple times, his love/hate relationship with the tambourine, and just plain talking to the crowd – he’s the guy you watch for the most part. And he does it with aplomb – none of it ever seems forced or fake, he’s just a natural up there. What the band does under the current circumstances is not hang their man out to dry (as if) and boosted their own voices so he didn’t have to strain quite as hard. Granted, I am a fan so they already had both my thumbs up, but to pull off what Ricky Wilson did tonight and supported by the rest of the team, was nothing short of a tour de force. Respect.
For “Modern Way”, Peanut was asked to come to the front to “show people” the clapping they were meant to do. I think we did all right; the usually nonplussed Peanut looked pleased enough with the room’s efforts. When the lyric “in need of some repair” came up, Ricky tapped himself on the chest with a bit of a grin. I felt the crush from the crowd and a bit of the floor doing its bouncy thing for “Na Na Na Naa”. The first of a few opportunities for the crowd to lose their…minds. “Never Miss A Beat” was hilarious – no beats were missed, but I think he forgot the words to every verse but the first. Simon had a bit of a confused look on his face in Ricky’s direction as if to query what was going on, and Ricky was laughing at himself that he had forgotten the words – it was quite funny and the audience kept going unabated as did the band. Afterwards, he joked saying (and I’m paraphrasing) that one of the things you try to pass on as a judge of a TV vocal contest is to just go with it when things like that happen and to not let it affect you. He then said the next song was a new song and he would need some assistance with it. Again, slightly confused looks from the band until he went upstage to check for a second coming right back to say, nope, it’s an old one and it’s easy. From The Future is Medieval, it was “Little Shocks” and I still think it’s an underrated release. It took me a bit to get my ears around it initially (I have the 2 CD version that includes Start the Revolution without me) but it’s got really, REALLY good songs on them.
Still in a joking mood, he repeated his previous segueway along the lines of ‘one of the things that you do as a judge on a TV vocal show’ before chuckling and the band beginning “Falling Away”, the new one previously billed as hard – no question there; for those long sustained note on the word “Away” I’m thinking it’s definitely not hydration that’s getting him this far; it’s technique and sheer will power because there was no hesitation on any of the chorus repeats of that line – he launched right into it, keeping the mic almost a foot away from his mouth, that’s how much power he was still managing to produce.
Fan-favourite “Ruby” came next and the audience was given one of the middle choruses to solo on, but I think we’d pretty much sung the entire song with the band up until then and continued right along in that vein. I can’t remember in which song Ricky asked the crowd to see if they could be louder than the one from their last time in Vancouver. The verdict on this issue might still be pending. “I Predict A Riot” had more bounce from the floor and pressure from the back towards the front. It’s quite the mosher of a song. At one point, Ricky stood still for a second with his non-mic hand stretched out in front of him when someone from the audience launched a green and yellow flag at him which landed right on his outstretched hand. Not missing a beat, he walked over to Simon and shoved the top couple of inches down the back of the bassist’s shirt and made him a cape. Simon kept it on for the rest of the song at least and even ‘flew’ around with it for a spell.
When VJ used the hard mallets on the cymbal to start the next song, I needed a moment to figure out what was next…and then with ‘that’ opening riff, the shoe dropped. I’d never heard them do The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” before, and unsurprisingly, it was good! In their hands it doesn’t sound the least bit dated (wiki tells me it’s from 1969) and the crowd just ate it up. The final pre-encore song was the incredibly apt seeming “Coming Home” and it’s one of my favourites from the current CD Education, Education, Education, And War. It’s got that anthemic quality in the chorus that I love so much in a song and the chorus is a great one to just belt out. An exhausted Ricky with a voice in trouble left the stage before the rest of the band had finished playing out the song’s end. Deafening applause and cheers as the remaining foursome left for the wings. Is it wrong to say I felt a bit guilty joining in?
They were back PDQ (within two minutes) and “Misery Company” was the song to begin it. The keyboard against the precision of the quarter notes is one of the things that makes this song interesting, and the “ha ha ha”s are just FUN! One final song remained, and it’s the last gasp chance for the audience to lose their minds. Kaiser Chiefs deliver it with “Oh My God” – just in case (also because it’s the done thing), Ricky teaches the chorus line to the audience, but to be frank, we’re singing along to everything already. And then it was over, this amazing and raw show. Again, to lots of applause and cheers, and hooting and hollering, general noise-making. It was just shy of midnight when the house lights came back up and happy, exhausted people began heading for the door.
In closing, irrespective of how I’ve described the overall and individual performances here, I really do not want this to be viewed as a ‘great show considering….’ kind of review. It was a great show – full stop. After all, it was a Kaiser Chiefs show and I know every subsequent audience on this tour will get nothing less than what clichés such as “leaving it all on the stage”, “giving it 110% percent”, “all hands to the pump”, “pedal to the metal”, and “the fans are getting their money’s worth” state so perfectly yet inanely. Kaiser Chiefs, you done more than good. Be well and bon voyage.