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Kaiser Chiefs with Ok Go and Amusement Parks on Fire (Wednesday, June 1st, 2005, First Avenue, Minneapolis)

Kaiser Chiefs - Publicity photo

By Maura McAndrew

I’ll say one thing for Kaiser Chiefs front man Ricky Wilson: he can jump higher than any rock star I’ve seen. This fact, however, may be one of the only differences between Kaiser Chiefs and the legions of other nouveau rock/punk acts to emerge since The Strokes broke out in 2001. This group of five lads from Leeds demonstrated Wednesday night at a half-full First Ave that charisma may fuel the hype machine, but that alone won’t set you apart.

Though it didn’t blow my mind, the Kaiser Chiefs show met my expectations. I bought their album a couple months ago, a time when every NME-toting Bripster wanna-be was singing their praises. With Pete Doherty no longer in danger of becoming the next Sid Vicious, what was the Britpop-loving public to focus on? They needed a new band to compare to The Jam, The Kinks, and The Clash. So they picked Kaiser Chiefs. And why not? Their debut, Employment, is fast paced, tight, and melodic, and their stage presence is infused with Jagger-esque strutting and Bowie-rotic posturing. As I set out to review this, my first show for howwastheshow.com, I expected it to be fun, and it was.

The night started with Nottingham’s little-known Amusement Parks on Fire (David de Young’s new favorite band, which he reviews here), who delivered an introverted, feedback-heavy set. Chicago power-poppers Ok Go played next, and though their playful presence got the crowd going, it seemed to me at odds with the Kaiser Chiefs too-cool-for-school approach. Ok Go pounded out exuberant, fun pop songs with good-natured glee as wiry singer Damian Kulash bounded around the stage in a mismatched shirt and tie. The songs, though catchy, were also complex, with interesting backing vocals and an organ fleshing them out.

Watching Ok Go, immediately the cringe-worthy label “geek-chic” came to my mind. In terms of The O.C., they were definitely the Seth Cohen of the night. In the end though, their set turned out to be damn entertaining. After a broken string led into an impromptu Les Mis sing along by singer and guitarist, the band closed with a fully choreographed lip-sync. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed.

Though Ok Go’s high-energy antics were much appreciated, they served as a poor lead in for the fuck-it bravado of Kaiser Chiefs. As the curtain finally rose on the band, the small audience cheered as Wilson moon walked onstage to the opening strains of Employment’s most Oasis-like piece of nonsense, “Na Na Na Na Naa.” All members decked out in the neo-rock uniform of funky shirts, jackets, and skinny ties, the band moved quickly through its small catalog with incredible energy. This can mostly be attributed to Wilson, who tore around the stage slamming his tambourine, cowbell, or whatever he happened to be playing at any particular moment.

An early highlight was “Saturday Night,” one of the best songs on Employment, and Wilson sang the words most of us in the audience were thinking, “I wanna be like those guys/I wanna wear my clothes tight.” It was slightly disappointing however, that this slick party anthem wasn’t saved until later in the set. Wouldn’t it be great if the evening had ended with the lines, “Cut through the city on a Saturday night/Cos you and me are on the edge of a knife”?
Other highlights were the instantly recognizable single, “I Predict a Riot,” and the Blur-influenced best track on the album, “You Can Have It All,” for which Wilson invited a female fan up on stage for a slow dance. The band played two songs not on Employment, both of which were strong and fast, an exciting break from the mediocre bits of the album. Wilson and the rest of the band managed to keep the energy up all the way through, not pausing long enough for any of us to get bored. The structure of the set itself could use some work, as the placement of the dark, mid-tempo “Caroline, Yes,” as part of the encore was, to me, a mistake. The Kaiser Chiefs made the error of playing their most popular tracks so early that the crowd was left with nothing to look forward to.

Leaving First Ave on Wednesday night, I was satisfied, but still comfortable in my position that Kaiser Chiefs, though they make a tremendous effort, are not the next big anything. They are simply a hardworking, charismatic band that will hopefully grow out of the shadow of their influences to become something unique.