Live Music + Gig Reviews

Weezer + Nine Black Alps + The Kooks @ Hammersmith Apollo, London

22 August 2005

On a grim London night, in the land of make believe, it was a nightofmen and boys. The very young and very hotly tipped Kooks did little toconvince that they were the next big thing vis-a-vis a major labelbiddingwar which Virgin won. They seemed surprisingly shy. Granted some ofthem arestill in their teens, in relatively lean teen bodies playing one of thebiggest venues of their young lives.

Frontman Luke Pritchard did hisbest inan animated skip about, thrash around the stage kind of way. A goodtry, buthe smacked of nerves as he kept his head down and face guarded by hiscurlyfringe, consistently fluffing some pretty foreign in between songchatter.

Still there was promise, which Virgin have rightly spotted, withsomemuch heavier, snottier numbers which should eventually dispel theSupergrass comparisons. Even so, it was often lost in anappallingsound setup which was consistently reduced to spitty cymbals andoverpowering bass. The better moments tended to be the explicitlymelodicones (In Love, Matchbox). A bit more gigging, a better soundman andbetterdiet is definitely on the menu.

There’s a period of time when the brain contracts due to lack ofneuralactivity. The eyes roll upwards to the to the left just as oxygen andstimuli get dangerously low in the upper cortex. New stimuli has tooccurotherwise you end up like Muhammed Ali. But it often does, though thisismore commonly known as daydreaming and you experience a hell of a lotof itwatching Nine Black Alps go through their rigorous motions.

If The Kooks were shy iccle boys, Nine Black Alps are teenagers who have justdiscovered drink, dope and Nevermind. Like many a teenager in theirfirstproper rock band there is a strict code to follow – intros populatedbyscuzzy Sonic Youth squalls (complete with drumstick molestationofthe fret board). Wiry sweat soaked hair. Guitars low slung and,imperatively, crushing wind milling followed by infliction of painfullooking personal injury the Opus Dei would be proud of, thoughinvolvinginstruments or huge stage dives. It’ll be a surprise if this bunch last muchlonger. Then again there was a significant sect of 14-year-olds to theleftbobbing and moshing cheerfully. Sam Forrest was either patronising usorcleverly addressing his real audience with a sly “thanks kids.”

Fresh faced, clean shaven and with a twinkle in his eye, RiversCuomo hasa spectacular inability to physically age. Mentally he is a mystery.Thiswas the fourth time in as many years I had gone to a Weezer show.Cuomo’smood had always determined the band on the night. In year one Cuomo wasshyand slowly learning to return to the stage. In year two he was a cokedupmess. In year three he was a grumpy, bearded autocrat. In year four, heseemed reborn.

He was now suddenly embracing the spotlight he so often shunned. Hewasengaging the fans who so endeared him, yet whom he could not seem tocommunewith. He jarred and struck classic rock poses playing off his geekishdemure. Is this Rivers Cuomo? Is it another schizo moment? And then hewentback, “way back to the first song, from the first album.” Elation asbluelight fused with the magical melody of My Name Is Jonas. They hadalreadydropped Undone just two songs in. But they just kept coming – No OneElse,Why Bother, El Scorcho.

You had the pinch yourself to make sure this was real. But nothingcouldhave prepared you for the moment Cuomo discreetly crept up to thebalconyduring the interval. “Over here!” he hollered. Sure enough there he waswithan acoustic guitar at the front row of the balcony for Island In TheSun.Remarkably he still had time to race back down and trade places withPatWilson for Photograph.

Whatever has Cuomo going again, I don’t think there was a singlesoul inthe Apollo who didn’t hope that it stayed. Maybe it’s a new lease oflife,maybe it’s some kind of special K. Or perhaps he’s finally grown up.Maybethis shy, slightly troubled boy is now his own man.

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