Live Review: The Kooks – London

The Kooks

Alexandra Palace, London, May 13th 2017

Words & Photos: Simon Reed

It was Eurovision tonight. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you might vaguely remember the heady days when we actually stood a chance of winning it. Well, I’m feeling nostalgic too; and It’s not because I stayed home to­­ see if Greece and Cyprus would award each other 12 points (though they did, obviously). My nostalgia centred around a trip to London’s Alexandra Palace and an appointment with mid-noughties sensations The Kooks.

The Kooks’ debut album Inside In/Inside Out dropped in January of 2006 and rapidly achieved quadruple Platinum status. Whilst the band never quite recaptured that level of success with subsequent releases, their sound was an integral part of what defined that year and what defined the decade. Tonight, they are performing the final UK date on their The Best Of tour at the biggest venue on the schedule. Ally Pally is very proud of its 10,250 standing capacity (which is great unless you do happen to want a seat – there aren’t any) and The Kooks have sold it out. The other thing the venue is peculiarly proud of is its links to public transport. This is weird, because if you don’t live in North London and own a car, it’s actually slightly easier to land on the moon than it is to get there. But I digress.

Tonight’s first support were Brighton’s Fickle Friends. The indie pop five-piece are a band I’ve seen twice before – the first time of which was at Camden’s (now sadly rebranded) Barfly (capacity 200) just under two years ago. I didn’t imagine that I might be seeing them on a stage of this size now. The Great Hall at Ally Pally has a glass roof, and starting at 7.20pm on a bright May evening with the sun belting down outside, the performance carried the vibe of an early afternoon festival slot. That said, the Kooks faithful were already wedged against the barrier and a commendable number of people had managed to get here to see Fickle Friends perform. I can only assume the fans had set off yesterday. Singer Natassja Shiner closed by advising of a forthcoming headline show at the O2 Forum, Kentish Town. The future looks almost as bright as the weather.

Tonight’s sandwich filling came in the form of Clean Cut Kid, a band I’d not seen before, nor if I’m honest had heard much about. “Can you understand me? I’m dead scouse and I’ve got a rat on my face”, said front man Mike Halls of his accent and the rat on his face. To his right, his wife Evelyn played keys and sang backing vox. A husband and wife team always adds an interesting (if historically risky) dynamic for a band. Playing songs from their recent debut album release Felt, I immediately warmed to Clean Cut Kid. The music was tight and they obviously really enjoyed delivering it – bass player Saul Godman wearing a grin that was in danger of encroaching on an adjacent postcode. At the end of the song Jean, they segued into a few bars of a number everyone seemed to be aware of called Naïve. The crowd obviously went berserk and bellowed the words back. “I just wanted to know what it’s like to be in the Kooks for two minutes” said Hall. I definitely want to see this band again.

The Kooks played their first twenty seconds from behind a backlit white sheet. At this point I was at the side of the stage and saw the band walk on behind it. The roar when the crowd saw the silhouettes for the first time made my hairs stand up. I can’t imagine how amazing it must have felt for the band.

The opening triumvirate were all from Inside In/Inside Out: Eddie’s Gun, You Don’t Love Me, Sofa Song. You only get three songs from the photo pit, and these were fast. I went back through the crowd and found a nice spot from which to watch. The room may be the size of a football pitch, but the stage is very high. Sightlines are good from just about everywhere. Not that you really needed to see the band. Thirty vari lights (I’m a sucker for a vari light) spinning around above made for a spectacular lightshow and if you really wanted sound not quite with vision there were a couple of screens too. The sound was also really good. Last time I was here, it was atrocious. At the time, I put that down to the effects of being in a room big enough to swing a Boeing. Now I’m starting to wonder whether it might have had something to do with You Me At Six…

“We know why you guys came, you came for the hits”, opined frontman Luke Pritchard. He then hit the first chords on an acoustic to She Moves in Her Own Way and the crowd went nuts. The community singing could probably be heard in Harringay. But this was not just a nostalgiafest. New single Be Who You Are followed and the crowd were equally into it – loads of hands in the air and clothes being thrown around.

The whole band were on top form but Pritchard really is an incredibly engaging and active performer. When he wasn’t encumbered by a guitar, he was haring about like a man possessed. He was also super chilled with his minimalist interactions with the crowd: “You might remember this one.” Ooh La. They did.

The performance was resolutely up-tempo, with only one pause for breath and contemplation. For See Me Now the rest of the band departed and Prichard’s solo vocal and piano echoed around the great hall. It’s a song about his late father and was dedicated to anyone who had recently suffered a bereavement. Emotive stuff. If he could see him now, I think Luke’s dad would think things had worked out ok.

Sweet Emotion was one of a handful of songs played from the 2014 album Listen – an album that received some heat at the time because it didn’t sound like The Kooks. Yes it did. It’s just that funnily enough The Kooks in 2014 didn’t sound just like they did in 2006. I really enjoyed it and judging by the amount of beer I got rinsed with, so did plenty of people behind me. Let’s hope it was beer. Seaside followed, accompanied by a sea of mobile phone lights and an inordinate number of girls on shoulders. Shots of the crowd on the big screens gave an indication of how amazing it must have looked from the stage. Oh, to be a rock star.

There were three encores, Around Town, Shine On and (inevitably) Naïve. Glitter cannons sprayed the crowd. Beer glasses flew. Half the audience momentarily forget to enjoy the gig and film a minute or so of deeply disappointing video on their phones. Luckily by the end they had fully bought into it again.

The spirit of the night was summed up by the close to the main set: Junk Of The Heart (Happy) and the “I wanna make you happy” lyric. Based on the mass dancing and beaming smiles of the crowd, I’d say mission accomplished. Anyone who thinks the Kooks aren’t relevant eleven years on needed to be in here tonight.

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