Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Kooks @ Brixton Academy, London

1 May 2008

With a sell-out tour promoting their number one album Konk, the follow-up to their 2006 triple-platinum debut album Inside In/Inside Out, and their songs getting constant airplay, The Kooks would seem to have it made.

So why does the indie press give the band such a hard time?

Maybe there’s some inverted snobbery about their public school/music college background. Maybe because they make it look too easy to write slick, breezy songs with catchy hooks and singalong choruses they must be ‘lightweight’.

Or maybe they’re just too popular for an ‘indie’ band (though they’re on a major record label). Whatever. They will never have the street cred of Arctic Monkeys, but The Kooks produce some of the best pop-rock around. Luke Pritchard is a fine songwriter and a decent singer, Hugh Harris is a sharp guitarist and the band stay tight while evidently enjoying themselves playing live.

Before their 75-minute set, two support acts hold stage. The Rivers – friends of the band from Brighton – sound rather like The Kooks with a bit more guitar edge but despite some equally tuneful songs for some reason have not ‘made it’ – yet. The excellent current single She Gives It Around may change that.

Palladium are presumably on the bill because they share the same record label as The Kooks – Virgin Records – as there can’t be any other excuse for their awful brand of ’70s MOR/ ’80s New Romantic music being on this tour. Sometimes sounding disturbingly like a souped-up version of Spandau Ballet, this bizarrely dressed keyboard-led quartet seem to have strayed into the 21st century by accident.

Relief is just around the corner as The Kooks take to the stage bang on time and proceed to zip through most of the tracks on their two albums with controlled energy. Kicking off with new single Always Where I Need To Be, they play fast and loud, sounding more raw than on their recordings. A few of their older songs follow – See the World, Sofa Song, She Moves in Her Own Way, Nave – all of them sounding like singles as they seem so familiar.

When they get on to the newer material, it’s surprising to notice the difference – though only a year or two apart, the tracks from Konk seem less frenetic and more varied in pace. Songs like Do You Wanna, Stormy Weather, Down to the Market and next single Shine On lyrically still tend to be about the same subjects of the ups and downs of love affairs but musically The Kooks have progressed. Youthful of course but more mature.

Pritchard has fun cavorting around the stage in a laid-back, loose way, moving to the front to feel the adulation of the audience and almost getting his shirt ripped off his back. For the encores, he performs an acoustic guitar duet of The Everly Brothers‘ Bye Bye Love, followed by impressive solo versions of Seaside and Jacky Big Tits, before the whole band return for the final song Ooh La, with the audience inevitably joining in.

Apparently they have 80 or 90 songs already written and ready to record. Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t ignore ’em, with The Kooks showing every sign of being around for years to come.

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More on The Kooks
The Kooks – Listen
The Kooks – Junk Of The Heart
The Kooks @ Brixton Academy, London
The Kooks – Konk
The Kooks + Larrikin Love @ Octagon, Sheffield