The Killers<br/>The Kaiser Chiefs<br/>Bloc Party<br/>The Futureheads

It's serious, it's clever, it's in tricky time - it's the thrilling return of art-rock!
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The Independent Culture

This is the year - and the tour - of men in nice shirts who listen to early Eighties art rock. In the week that The Killers finally hit number one in the UK album charts, it makes sense that the four bands on this year's NME package tour (this year co-sponsored by a brand of hairspray, anti-corporate Bill Hicks fans may like to learn) should represent a certain attitude and a certain moment, in contrast to previous years which have seen indie hipsters (Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture) horrifically mismatched with baggy-trousered nu-metallers (Funeral For A Friend, Lostprophets).

This is the year - and the tour - of men in nice shirts who listen to early Eighties art rock. In the week that The Killers finally hit number one in the UK album charts, it makes sense that the four bands on this year's NME package tour (this year co-sponsored by a brand of hairspray, anti-corporate Bill Hicks fans may like to learn) should represent a certain attitude and a certain moment, in contrast to previous years which have seen indie hipsters (Franz Ferdinand, The Rapture) horrifically mismatched with baggy-trousered nu-metallers (Funeral For A Friend, Lostprophets).

A member of one act on the 2005 jaunt - it would be indiscreet of me to say who - drunkenly accosts me after the show [at the University of Northumbria] to boast "we are the most serious band on this tour". He may or may not be right, but it's bracing to hear such words coming from the mouths of musos, where they previously might have claimed to be the "most rock'n'roll" or "most down-to-earth".

Similarly, although a time may arrive when it's tiresome to hear yet more new bands who have evidently been listening to a whole lotta Talking Heads, XTC, Magazine, Wire and Gang of Four, it isn't here yet, and it's still a breath of fresh air after what seemed like an eternal reich of Lennon/Marriott/Weller disciples.

Reading an interview with The Kaiser Chiefs in which they proclaimed their love of Britpop as teenagers, one feared the worst. Happily, it would seem that they didn't mean Kappa Rock of the Oasis/Charlatans/Cast type, but the clever, artful, Pulp/Elastica/Suede strain.

Their music, propelled by the staccato Stooges/Roxy keyboards of the pork pie-hatted Peanut (who looks like a stock spiv from Minder), is automatic and impulsive, mimetic of spasmodic conditions like epilepsy and Tourette's. Their lyrics are laced with absurdist humour courtesy of singer Ricky Wilson, who does so much reckless leaping around that he seems to spend 33 per cent of the show with his knees up to his chest in classic Olympic diver's tuck position. The locals enjoy the singles "I Predict a Riot" and "Oh My God" so much that they throw beer at them. Up here, that's apparently a sign of appreciation.

Bloc Party leave me baffled. Everyone else seems to hear and see something in them to which I'm deaf and blind. At the Reading Festival, I saw an average, half-decent indie band, and that's what I see tonight. They have two very good songs (the single "Helicopter" and the B-side "Positive Tension"), and a whole lot of derivative filler. Their occasionally intriguing lyrics ("We've got crosses in our eyes and we're walking into the furniture") are invariably supplanted by rockspeak borrowed from The Smiths ("take me out tonight..."), Springsteen ("I'm on fire...") and The Cure ("I'm lost in a forest..."). Indeed, when Kele Okereke's plaintive yelp doesn't sound like Damon Albarn, it sounds like Robert Smith.

"There are some people crowd-surfing," The Futureheads' Barry Hyde complains two songs in, "and people down the front are getting damaged. If you want to go away thinking 'I had a good time, I kicked someone in the face', leave NOW." Guitarist Ross Millard, attempting to restore some levity, adds "Thai kick-boxing! Focus the aggression!" but it's unclear whether he's addressing his audience or his singer.

The Futureheads are all about the tension between their angular, sometimes fearsome guitar noise and the ding-dong melodic chimes of the vocal harmonies, epitomised on songs like "The City Is Here For You To Use" and their superb cover of Kate Bush's "The Hounds of Love". When Millard announces "This song is in 5/4", it occurs that most musicians probably think 5/4 is a football score.

The long delay before The Killers come onstage almost threatens to become the first hiccup in their slick charm offensive, and there are a few slow handclaps and boos, but when the room goes dark to the strain of the theme from Love Story, the lightbulb logo flashes bright, and Brandon Flowers steps out in his salmon-pink leather tuxedo, Tyneside is floored and all resentment is vaporised. (Unlike Pete Doherty, whose pallid physog is projected onto the big screens several times throughout the night, these guys are professionals. A no-show was never an option.) They're the band of the moment.

As "Somebody Told Me" reaches its thump-thump climax, I tell Chief Kaiser Ricky Wilson - yes, it was he who proclaimed his band's superior seriousness - that this isn't a competition, you know. "Simon," he grins, "Life's a competition."

s.price@independent.co.uk

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