The British pop-rock band stopped by Hollywood as part of their very short 3-city (San Francisco, LA and New York City) mini-tour before heading back across the sea in preparation for their upcoming album, Junk of the Heart, due out on September 12th. A sizable portion of the Kooks’ set list was new and unfamiliar songs, but the screaming, squealing (and predominately female) audience didn’t seem to mind.
LA-based band Family of the Year opened the night’s festivities with an eclectic and varied blend of folksy, sometimes keyboard-driven music. The band’s roughly thirty minute set, which served as a showcase of their full-length debut Songbook, was filled with highlights.
FOTY’s songs have a quiet energy to them that really pays off live; even the more subdued numbers were delivered with a passion and precision that was a testament to their musicianship. I hadn’t previously heard much about FOTY, but they were the kind of surprise that is very enjoyable at concerts such as this: many times when big, successful bands do mini-tours of intimate venues, some random (and usually bland) local band is tossed on the bill to warm up the disinterested crowd, but thankfully this wasn’t one of those occasions. Family of the Year were impressive, and deserve to find themselves getting some more high-profile gigs in the coming months. It should be noted that after the show, the band’s rental van (with all of their equipment inside) was stolen from outside the Troubadour. Help them recover all their lost stuff by spreading the word. Things like this shouldn’t happen.
After FOTY moseyed off-stage, the anticipation swelled. The Troubadour, packed to capacity on a warm summer night, began pulsating with heat. Even upstairs in the cool people VIP area it was hard to get a good vantage point that didn’t feel like standing in a cramped sauna. Around 9:30, the lights dimmed and the screaming began. When Luke Pritchard, Hugh Harris, Peter Denton and Chris Prendergast emerged onto the stage, the anticipation of the previous hour and a half had reached its apex.
The band launched into set opener Always Where I Need To Be (a perfect first song), and by that time the scene could have been lifted from old 1970s archival footage: Pritchard bouncing around the stage with a Jim Morrison-like presence, his open shirt and disheveled hair bobbing around, eliciting many outstretched palms from the kids up front.
It became apparent rather quickly that the Kooks are a fantastic live band. What makes them stand out lies in the power of their live sound: in concert, the Kooks manage to sound both raw and polished on each song. They don’t sound TOO clean, and at the same time they aren’t feedback-y and incoherent either. There’s a dirtiness and imperfection to their live sound that works exceedingly well.
In the United States, the Kooks haven’t ever really been one of those “huge” British bands. They’ve received a modicum of radio play for Naïve and She Moves In Her Own Way, but considering how lively the crowd was at this show you’d think they were as big here as they are at home. When they played those two hit songs at about the midway point of the show, you could sense everyone's camera phones being lifted into the air.
But enough about the hits. The Kooks played six new tunes at this show, presumably off of Junk of the Heart, and for the most part the new songs were evidence that they will only grow in popularity come September. After Konk favorite Shine On, we were treated to Carried Away, a mellow, acoustic number that showed some creative maturity – piano plucks, tempo changes, the whole bit. Mr. Nice Guy was another mellow new tune, again with a nice, easy rhythm and some piano accompaniment. While not a new song, Do You Wanna did provide one of the night’s most enjoyable moments. The band jammed it out, slowing it down and allowing the song’s energy to be stretched out to a powerful five minutes or so. Pritchard milked the crowd’s energy by walking from side to side and reaching his hand out, much to the fervent delight of the girls up close. After Naïve, the band played How D’ya Like That, another keyboard-led new one.
Considering how many of the new songs featured slower rhythms and heavy piano use, it will be interesting to see if the Kooks are going in a new direction with Junk of the Heart, moving away from the simplistic guitar-driven Brit pop-rock of their first two albums. Eskimo Kiss started out with a sweet acoustic riff before picking up a bit and going into jangly summer-y pop. The song could end up being the next Naïve, as it had the same kind of catchiness and memorable energy that made Naïve such a hit. Saboteur packed a Beatles/Pink Floyd-esque punch, with Pritchard manning the piano. The tempo changed quite a few times, slowing down into dreamy 60s pop before picking back up. It was definitely a challenging song, and a far cry from anything the Kooks have created thus far in their career.
Stormy Weather rounded out the initial set, before they came back onstage (to more screams) for an encore of Seaside, new song Is It Me and show-closer Sofa Song. Pritchard did his best Julian Casablancas impression on Is It Me, his lazy delivery taking charge before the guitars came in. When Sofa Song ended and the house lights came up, the hour and twenty minute set was over. Based on the new songs, it’s apparent that the Kooks may be radically shifting their sound, which is always a tricky maneuver for bands of their stature. Fellow British lads Arctic Monkeys gave their fans a lot of headaches with the marked difference of Humbug, but the Kooks probably won’t have that problem with Junk of the Heart. The new songs were fresh and memorable for their difference, but that’s the true mark of a band maturing well.
The Kooks’ gig at the Troubadour was a fantastic hour and a half of top-tier British music from four very talented musicians. The band has a swagger and stage presence that is at home both in huge stadiums and tiny stages, and that’s part of the reason they’re as successful as they are. It was all on display during this hot, sweaty, jam-packed night of Britpop bliss.
The Kooks set list
Always Where I Need To Be
See The World
She Moves In Her Own Way
Mr. Nice Guy
Do You Wanna
How D'ya Like That
Is It Me