The 2005-2006 musical season may have so far been dominated by a collective of Britpop worshippers from Leeds and a group of teenagers from Sheffield, but not far behind them are a quartet from Brighton going by the name of The Kooks, who tonight played a gig at the 1000 capacity Mean Fiddler that left no doubt whatsoever in anyone’s mind that mainstream stardom is just a couple of steps away for these four youngsters.
It was certainly a big night for gigs in the capital – just next door at The Astoria, Jack White and Brendan Benson‘s lovechild The Raconteurs were making their debut in the big city, whilst this was The Kooks’ biggest show to date, on the back of their top 10 debut album, Inside In/Inside Out. Touts outside were having a field day – “Rayconters/Cooks, buy or sell!” they yelled, as money changed hands to ensure entrance to the two sold out shows.
And those who made it into the smaller of the two rooms had a real treat ahead of them. I can’t say much for what happened upstairs, but the strength of the performances here were a firm, unequivocal, and occasionally exhilarating advert for the strength of the current British music scene.
Getting the crowd into gear was hotly tipped South Londoner Jamie T, who for about 25 minutes, commanded the attention of most in the room with just an acoustic bass guitar and his mostly spoken, MC-a-like vocals. Imagine a stripped down, back-to-basics Mike Skinner and you’re almost there. Indeed, the lyrics are the main attraction here, with universally accessible lines like “She’s a slut/never loved her anyway” leaving a firm impression on the mind. Crucially, he was always entertaining, and left us in no doubt he’ll be omnipresent in 2006.
And so the stage was set for The Kooks to display to everyone why they’re one of the most talented, charismatic and exciting British bands to emerge on to the scene for quite some time. With a well-received debut record, sold out tours and a handful of recently completed shows at Austin’s SXSW festival, confidence was visibly high as they launched headlong into acoustic album opener Seaside.
To borrow a clich, this was the calm before the storm, as high powered, room filling and utterly engrossing renditions of See The World, Matchbox and Eddie’s Gun soon followed. Their grinding schedule of late has transformed them into an impressively tight knit unit, and in Hugh Harris – who sang some enthusiastic backing vocals and never missed a note on the fret board – they have something of a guitar hero, a perfect foil to the hyper-active free spirit of singer Luke Pritchard.
The performance as a whole was akin to a good pub jukebox, with almost every song galvanising wild roars of approval and enthusiastic crowd sing-alongs, particularly on new single Nave, where the audience spared Pritchard the bother of opening his mouth for the first few lines. The band also displayed a great versatility on the Americana inspired rock-out Time Awaits, which formed something of a set centrepiece.
Rounding off their encore with the lesser known, but equally exciting, reggae influenced numbers California and Pull Me In, it was a riotous end to an event that will almost certainly be viewed as a watershed. For in May, they play two sold out nights next door at The Astoria, before they hit the festivals and undoubtedly even bigger venues come the autumn. This is their time, and you’d be well advised to jump on board.