Keane, ULU, London
Friday 12 March 2004
Following a convincing support set by Grand Transmitter, who managed to warm the brimful University of London Union crowd with their wry and spirited guitar pop, there was a lengthy pause before the much-lauded headliners Keane came on stage. By the time they appeared, the audience was reeking of impatience. Then a stage fan, gusting air into the hair of the roadies and up through the blue stage smoke, thankfully heralded the boys from Battle, East Sussex.
Keane can be relaxed about when they turn up. Having just supported Travis as part of their UK tour and reached number three in the UK charts with their first single, "Somewhere Only We Know" - and rumoured to be playing in Glastonbury - this talented (and guitarless) band is ever so fresh. Oh, and as the lead singer Tom Chaplin pointed out at the gig, it was his birthday the day before.
Although Keane's youngest member is now 25, he doesn't look a day over 21. Chaplin's widely-noted, cherub features were so delicately offset by his wispy hair in the artificial breeze that it wouldn't have been surprising if he'd ascended gently up to the ULU ceiling. One would not have been able to attribute those heights to anything more illicit than a cup of tea, either: an almost Christian goodness emanates from a band that seems to have emerged straight from school assembly hall performances. They are so bashful, earnest and wholesome, it would put Paul McCartney to shame.
The audience was quickly overtaken by the succession of infectious songs, drenched in bitter-sweet sentiment. Despite having not yet released an album, much of the audience joined Tom in some gushing choruses, especially on "Bend and Break" and "Everything's Changing".
Slyly savvy, Keane are already seeking to promote an aura around themselves, what with use of the wind machine and the live video stream of the band, edited like a film-clip and projected behind them, spliced with black-and-white photographs. This film-clip made them appear even more "now", while creating a sense that this band is here to stay, and, strangely, that they have been around for some time. Aptly, time was soon out of joint: although they were late on stage, they were almost too quick to return for an encore, only to be rudely cut short when the keyboard broke down. Such was the end of a very slick performance.
Keane's almost blasphemous omission of the guitar does not make them indie or "new": rather, they are more purely pop. When Chaplin grabs the microphone, struts the stage, flicks his hair, and lets that big, clean voice out, he aspires to universal and enduring appeal; he reaches for the stadium with the galloping verve displayed by U2 in the early Eighties, but without the politics. Although they are frequently compared to Coldplay, Keane lack the shivery intrigue. With only purely sung melodies and a piano to work with, are they bland? Well, frankly, yes.
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