Friday, October 10, 2014

Not quite a riot, but...: The Kaiser Chiefs - Le Bataclan, Paris

Picture courtesy of Mauro Melis/@MauroParis
It's a damp, autumnal evening in Paris. Hats, scarves, overcoats and umbrellas are in evidence as the City of Light reluctantly gives up the seemingly endless summer it had been hanging on to.

The cold season is with us, too, with coughing, sniffing and spluttering conspicuous on the stiflingly packed Métro. God help us if Ebola gets loose down there.

But on that gloomy note, please consider the remedy: the energetic midweek party that are the Kaiser Chiefs, who kicked off their European tour on Tuesday night in Paris at that venerable salle de spectacle, Le Bataclan.

It's one of the many old theatres that provide manna from heaven for the expatriate muso in this city. This year alone I've seen both Robert Plant and the Manic Street Preachers at the Bataclan, and Paul Weller at the same venue two years ago. With other venues like La Trianon, La Cigale and the Flèche D'Or, you can enjoy the company of A-list acts in an environment of intimacy and exclusivity you would only otherwise experience with a private club show.

Of course, the choice of venue is largely made by the bands and their tour promoter. No-one wants to get stuck with bald swathes of empty seats or floorspace and a stack of unsold T-shirts. But for my somewhat agoraphobic avoidance of the aircraft hangars that bands play in on my home island, to be both a few yards away from the lead singer of Led Zeppelin as well as the front door is a blessing I treasure every time I visit one of these modest music palaces.

Most bands will start out in venues like Le Bataclan, honing their craft and building their live reputation. Blessed with a musical charisma and an appeal that transcended both pop fans and the festival grebos who hanker after something less accessible, the Kaisers appeared to arrive fully formed in 2005 with their hit-laden album Employment. And after an apparent dip in commercial form with their previous two long players, this year's Education, Education, Education and War returned to form, along with a February tour of the UK's biggest metal sheds, including the 20,000-seat behemoth that is London's O2.

However, beyond home borders, things might be different: one local blogger noted that Tuesday's Bataclan show was far from a sell-out, arguing that the Kaisers' creative hiatus had impacted their popularity in France. On my evidence, it was hard to tell: the Bataclan looked packed and the 1,000 or so punters crammed onto its floor seemed excited enough to be there.

As did the Kaiser Chiefs themselves. Condensed onto the Bataclan's relatively small stage, there was plenty of playscape for a combination of the communal participation-bearing hits of Employment and the more mature-sounding return to form of tracks from the Education... album. 

Such a stage also provides a compact hamster cage for Ricky Wilson to race about in manically, thankfully back to the day job, after his excursion into the artistically questionable realm of Saturday night light entertainment.

In the best traditions of the lead singer Wilson is the obvious focal point of the Kaisers, something he works at with aplomb, from leading the audience in Freddy Mercury-style lyric-free singalongs, to his apparent party trick of appearing in one of the balconies during The Angry Mob.

From start - The Factory Gates - to finish, Wilson is breathlessly engaging, drawing out of the band a solid chug of music that is unpretentious, uncomplicated and utterly enjoyable for it.

Everyday I Love You Less and Less gets the crowd joining in early in proceedings, with the equally audience-friendly Ruffians on Parade turning the Bataclan into a microcosm of communal chanting. Na Na Na Na Na brought more vocal support from the floor, a reminder of just how packed Employment was with top quality pop hits of the calibre of, say, Madness or Squeeze in their prime.

Thus, Modern Way and I Predict a Riot, plus their biggest post-Employment hit, Ruby, come bouncing along to the audience's inevitable delight - including besuited office workers shaking off the daily grind for a while to frug about, carefree. There's a moment of relative tenderness with the single Coming Home from Education... One reviewer has described this song, unfairly, as "generic". I disagree: while it might bear a strong similarity to Toto's Rosanna, and even positive similarities to latterday Genesis, it would be wrong to think of this almost-ballad as middle-of-the road. Actually, it's just a great song.

So is Misery Company, which kicks off the encore, and adds more damage to the untrained vocal chords in the crowd with its "Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha-hah" refrain (reminiscent of the old Charles Penrose music hall number The Laughing Policeman), before setting the floor ablaze with Oh My God.

And that's what you come along for. Whether standing in a muddy field in Somerset, surrounded by the great unwashed and their herbal recreation, or packed into a historic French theatre on a schoolnight, the Kaisers are never going to be about lighters-aloft schmaltz (sorry, I should update my reference points - iPhones-aloft...).No. What you come to see the Kaiser Chiefs for is pure, unadulterated entertainment. As solid as The Who, as playful as a panto, and utterly worth losing the use of your vocal chords for the following 24 hours.

1 comment:

  1. But did you see this guy?