The Killers/The Futureheads/Bloc Party/Kaiser Chiefs, Northumbria University, Newcastle

Don't look back in anger
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The Independent Culture

When pop history was brutally summarised at the end of the last millennium, it was perhaps the Eighties that were the most misrepresented. Tonight's Eighties-obsessed bands - who come together under the collective branding banner of the NME Awards Tour - understand this. Indeed, they are all clearly focused on that era's darker side. Not for them the popular choice of Culture Club, Duran Duran and dubious haircuts. These bands have built their respective sounds on the templates laid down by The Monochrome Set, Gang of Four, The Cure and the rest of the post-punk bands that ushered in the Eighties.

When pop history was brutally summarised at the end of the last millennium, it was perhaps the Eighties that were the most misrepresented. Tonight's Eighties-obsessed bands - who come together under the collective branding banner of the NME Awards Tour - understand this. Indeed, they are all clearly focused on that era's darker side. Not for them the popular choice of Culture Club, Duran Duran and dubious haircuts. These bands have built their respective sounds on the templates laid down by The Monochrome Set, Gang of Four, The Cure and the rest of the post-punk bands that ushered in the Eighties.

The Killers, The Futureheads, Bloc Party and Kaiser Chiefs all share the same approach to their retro obsessions. They are all almost single-minded in the need to represent surface-level style of the era, without becoming entangled with the sticky issues of the political depth that created the sound in the first place. This is just the "Modern Way", to paraphrase a particularly studied moment of vintage Eighties charm from the Kaiser Chiefs' repertoire.

The Killers are the odd ones out in this live package, being less interested in the edginess of their influences than in love with the plastic-coated, smooth lines that have come to represent the worst of 20 years ago. Sure they employ choppy guitars and quirky melodies, but the overall sheen has a glam tackiness that hints at the dreaded Duran Duran. The inevitable radio-friendly hits, self-consciously cool poses and all too obvious references to androgyny quickly start to sound more like bad pastiche than the expected inspired pop frenzy.

The Futureheads are the embodiment of the current post-punk obsession. They create edgy, awkward funk with heavily mannered harmonies in full- tilt Mackem accents. There is delicious irony in seeing the Mackems of Sunderland embraced by the Geordies of Newcastle as one of their own. It's a testament to how good this lot really are. Bloc Party explore vintage Cure with flourishes of early XTC, but fail to ignite proceedings. Their sound proves just a little too derivative.

Kaiser Chiefs, the opening band, prove to be the night's best. Sonically they tread a similar path to The Futureheads, but they add a sense of confusion through a series of conflicting signifiers. Visually, they could be a schoolboy band, all dressed up in skinny ties and ill-fitting jackets. (Busted for the indie kids?) Musically, they draw on disparate influences to create their hotch-potch version of punk-funk.

The opener, "Na Na Na Na Naaa", offers a nagging collision between Motown and new wave, which they used as a vehicle for a guitar solo worthy of The Who. "Hard Times They Send Me" moves from Gang of Four grooves into Queen pastiche without the bat of an eyelid. Predictably, the hit single "I Predict a Riot" inspires a mini-riot of plastic-glass-throwing - albeit a very polite one. In fact, politeness is the watchword for the entire evening. Kaiser Chiefs, like the rest of the line-up, have studied the past with a researcher's reverence. But the Leeds band shine because they get so much of it wrong. They deliver punk-funk stripped of its politics, brought down to its simple, inch-deep ideal.

Ultimately, for the Chiefs, it doesn't matter how true they are to the past because they are true to the here and now. And as they deliver a set of bouncing, arrogant, contemporary Eighties-obsessed pop classics they quickly grow into a band that is almost impossible to follow.

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