Kaiser Chiefs, Metropolitan University, Leeds <br></br> Rufus Wainwright, Tyne Theatre, Newcastle

Hail! Hail! Rock and forward roll!
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The Independent Culture

Picture the scene. The afternoon sun is beating down on the dusty streets of Austin, Texas, and Ricky Wilson, irrepressibly energetic frontman of Kaiser Chiefs, is hobbling along in his vintage blazer with a broken ankle, sustained in Seattle a few days earlier.

Coming the other way on the same pavement are The Bravery (the South By Southwest music festival is on). Spotting Wilson, they point and laugh heartlessly. Without missing a beat and without saying a word, Wilson drops his cane, executes a perfect forward roll, picks up his cane and carries on walking, leaving the New Yorkers open-mouthed.

It's spontaneous touches like this which demonstrate that Ricky Wilson is injecting a desperately needed shot of panache back to the British music scene. He's shaping up, in fact, to become this decade's Jarvis Cocker: a flamboyant, articulate Yorkshireman who isn't afraid of a colourful suit (unlike Cocker, Wilson admits to a fairly privileged upbringing and attended quite a posh school).

Indeed, the Kaisers' closest comparison is Pulp. Like Pulp (in their mid-Nineties heyday, at least), Kaiser Chiefs have the magical blend of lyrical dexterity and terrace-chant hooks which can unite the lads and the intellectuals. . Like Pulp, a sense of place permeates everything they do. The quintet even take their name from the South African football club which reared Leeds United stalwart Lucas Radebe. Like Pulp's, the KC version of Northern life is unflinchingly realistic - it's a world where "public transport smells like urine" - but, perversely, this only makes the Leeds crowd love them more.

And these are some of the reasons why tonight's homecoming gig is such a riotous affair. In the two short months since they footed the bill on the NME package tour - an interval which has seen their debut album, Employment, shoot into the top 10 - Kaiser Chiefs have become serious contenders for nation-uniting, festival-headlining status, and have five-handedly put Leeds back on the musical map.

From the moment the Chiefs romp into "Na Na Na Na Naaa", the locals enter into a frenzy of crowd-surfing. The person standing next to me compares the atmosphere to a Saturday afternoon at Elland Road. It helps that Ricky isn't in this alone. Kaiser Chiefs arguably have five frontmen - drummer Nick Hodgson sings and spins anecdotes almost as often as Wilson - and they all match up to his suave sartorial standards (invariably clad in blazers from the same specialist emporium in Edinburgh).

Twice during tonight's show - the third verse of their outsider's anthem "I Predict A Riot", and the chorus of the follow-up "Oh My God" - the baby-faced, rosy-cheeked Wilson doesn't need to sing at all: he leaves his microphone behind, allowing the very vocal throng to do his job for him, and stands on the barrier.

Looking at Wilson's blur of motion onstage tonight, you'd never guess he was still suffering from his American injury. Tonight, he adds to his woes (and his massage bills) by doing his shoulder in.

Sometimes, trying to play the "local" card can backfire. Especially if you're not from round these parts in the first place. "Are the Brontë sisters from round here?" singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright asks the Tyne Theatre. The Tyne Theatre responds with a resounding "No!". Undeterred, he ventures "Uh... Sting?"

His faux pas is indulged generously. Wainwright's depiction of his own birthplace, Montreal, is so vivid (a place of "tarot cards and Venetian clowns, antique shops and alcoholic homosexuals") that he might be describing the street where you live.

He, too has heritage. His parents are folk legends Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, his stepfather is musician Pat Donaldson, and his kid sister, Martha, is making waves in her own right.

Despite the parental divorce, the Wainwrights are a close-knit clan. Rufus devotes a section of the show to songs about his family, and lines like "I don't want to be John Lennon or Leonard Cohen/ I just want to be my dad, with a slight sprinkling of my mother" leap out. Daddy got there first, however. Some three decades ago, when Wainwright Jr was still being breast-fed, his father wrote a song called "Rufus Is A Tit Man".

How wrong he turned out to be. From his stereotypically gay speaking voice to the way he cocks his hand on his hips and camply smacks his lips, it's safe to assume that Rufus is not a tit man any more. Much to the chagrin, it must be said, of his female fans: with his film-star looks and immaculately sculpted sideys, Wainwright is fit and, my gosh, doesn't he know it.

Rufus's latest album, Want Two, has been largely portrayed as a dark and difficult affair, his least commercial and most impenetrable. But if the songs from it tonight are any guide, Rufus remains perfectly, er, penetrable ("I was, and always will be, a bit of a slut", he confesses). Take "Gay Messiah", in which he sings "No, it will not be me/ Rufus the Baptist I be/ No I won't be the one baptised in cum..." If this is dark and difficult, then let's have more darkness and difficulty.

On the contrary, Wainwright's lyrics are appealingly direct. In a song about fancying his schoolteacher, he recalls a visit to the Metropolitan Museum where "He asked us what our favourite work of art was/ But I never could tell him... it was him".

Wainwright forms part of the wave of New Vaudevillians which also includes, in wildly differing ways, Dresden Dolls, Hawksley Workman and Joanna Newsom, writing songs which use traditional stylings but which inhabit a recognisably contemporary world (one song contains observations on Britney Spears, electroclash, and phones set to vibrate). He's a gay, post-modern Neil Diamond.

His habit of stopping and re-starting songs tests the patience of his band of elegant bohemians, and his singing voice, monotonous and flat, often obscures those priceless lyrics, the syllables slurred and elided. It's too easy to drift off, and pray for the next monologue.

In the end, we get something more than we bargained for. No reverse-striptease for Wainwright, just the regular kind. During the encores, Rufus and his entire band, male and female alike, begin to strip off, revealing an array of g-strings and basques before getting togged up as Wizard Of Oz melting witches, and finally, hospital patients.

Wainwright himself sports red patent stilettos, a tiara, and a sequinned stars-and-stripes thong. Oh, and by the way, he waxes.


Kaiser Chiefs play the Anson Rooms & Ar2, University, Bristol (0117 954 5810) Wed; Cardiff University (0292 078 1458) Thu; tour