Many years ago, a friend introduced me to The Kooks, my love for the band, and our friendship has been a constant in my life ever since. When they announced they would be playing Sydney, I knew my friend would be there…I asked a little favour and got a review of the show….who better to review it for us, than the person who introduced the band to me!
On making decisions to like or dislike a band I am totally brutal. Music for me is a black or a white ordeal, with no certain shades of grey. Within a minute of watching this band live back in their early days, I’d decided despite the obvious enjoyment of the crowd (they could even pack a room back then) The Griswolds sound just wasn’t exactly, my ‘cup of tea’. Dubbed as Australia’s own Vampire Weekend, the pop-afrique sound just didn’t appeal to me. Many of the songs reminded me of the calypso ringtone from my Blackberry that once upon a time I’d set as my alarm as it was the only tone frustrating enough to stir me. The rest of the songs reminded me of Lion King the musical, or maybe it did because of that ‘Heart of a Lion’ song of theirs that got a lot of airplay.
We made a rookie error of missing the first band (which happened to be Catfish and the Bottlemen – still can’t believe we did that, I am in total denial) thinking that it would be the Griswolds. We grabbed a couple of beers and decided to take a seat as we waited for the headliners. With catchy tunes just as we expected, the Griswolds filled out the room again except this time it felt warranted. The vibe was just what the crowd needed, it sounded less calypso this time around and like most bands that have played the circuit for a few years the sound had become more polished. There were even moments it seemed they had finally began to own their sound, instead of it sounding like some kind of b-side off Contra. It is also impressive that the lead singer can hit all those high notes succinctly; oozing the right amount of confidence for a front man, but still being nice enough to walk around and meet some fans after their show wrapped up. It is nice to admit that the Griswolds were impressive, though they are still not exactly my cup of tea, I can appreciate that they are all talented guys.
Of all the chances I’ve had to see the Kooks, this was only my second time. I’ve been a fan of the band since the beginning and the fateful evening I saw Naïve play on a late night music show. They encapsulated that era of my life in high definition. It only takes a couple of songs off of Inside in/Inside out to help me transcend to that moment of time in all its glory and frivolousness, of what it was like to be a young adult in the early 00’s.
The boys defied my prediction starting off with Around Town instead of Forgive and Forget. These predictions are one of my favourite games to play at a concert I am not always right, but I feel good when I am. (You will be happy to know I picked all 3 encore songs in their order) Around town now seems like the wiser choice as it’s the first song of the album, setting the atmosphere for the new Kooks sound. A mulligrub choir (Australian childrens show reference) helped sing along the female vocals on the small screens that hung above the stage. The stage set seemed at home in the Hordern and the sound travelled the way you’d wish for, in perfect rapture. The Hordern Pavilion is one of my favourite venues for this reason.
Revisiting Konk for the next song, the familiar bash of the G chord bought us in to See The World, a loved favourite, forgotten with time. Pritchard moved across the stage with the reassurance of a young Dylan, a confident but insular front man and an artist comfortable in his environment. He seemed amidst some kind of explorative dilemma, without detracting from the magic or his close relationship with the band, and there is something beautiful about that kind of presence. The band played in perfect accordance, sharing songs artlessly like a good conversation. Tracks from Listen were mixed with fond memories, only detouring us for a trip down memory lane to play the best of the best.
Finally I was served an extended version of Forgive and Forget at the end, Pritchard insisting on the crowd to connect again. The whole crowd responded so positively to the new album, it was clear how loved it was amongst us all.
See Me Now was their first encore, a beautiful tribute to the lead singers father. You could feel the emotional response swell in the crowd as Pritchard allied piano to his words. The band chiming in at their parts, like little lifelines of support. Girls swayed amongst the shadows in the back of the stalls
It was nice to be reassured that the band have wiped their hands clean of their last sound as ‘Junk of the heart’ only revisited in one song, the infectious song of the same title as their second song of their encore. The song needed to revive the melancholic atmosphere that See Me Now had left us raw with.
Their closing song of the night was of course, Naïve. The song that had been the start my own adventure with the band all those years ago now. A song I had pinned to a horrible ex at the time, a song that reminds me of easier days where road trips and naïve freedom took precedence over career and mortgages.
Unfortunately the first time I saw the band it was a crowded festival situation when they were doing the rounds for Junk of the Heart. It was in no way an exceptional or memorable performance (this might be a biased opinion as that album was certainly my least favourite also) it is also never enjoyable sharing the space with thousands of festival punters. I know that Listen has been given mixed reviews but I think it is exactly the right direction the boys needed to go. It has saved them from their last album and essentially saved them from a pile of forgotten English bands that emerged around the same time. The Kooks are back and better than ever. The way they were meant to be, in their truest form.