Friday, July 23, 2010

Keane/Ingrid Michaelson/Fran Healy concert review

Keane photo by Kim Kinsler. My review originally appeared in the OC Register, which can be viewed here:

It is easy to lose yourself inside the expansive, piano-dominated realm of Keane. A similar experience — minus the music — can be had around Griffith Park, too.

Midway through the British band’s invigorating Greek Theatre show, singer Tom Chaplin recounted how he spent the afternoon: after visiting the nearby observatory, he wandered through the wilderness, lost sight of direction and walked about 10 miles.

So the frontman was relieved to sit down before playing organ amid the simple and elegant “Hamburg Song.” Before that, Chaplin, keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley, drummer Richard Hughes and unofficial fourth member Jesse Quin (adding bass and additional keyboards) concentrated on a sprightly, mostly uptempo batch of songs.

Although Los Angeles has always been a strong market for British music, seeing Keane booked into the Greek again seemed a curious move. Chaplin described it as “the most magical place to play music on the planet” — high praise, considering where they’ve toured. The venue was only about two-thirds full, possibly the result of a depressed and overcrowded summer concert season, though it’s also in keeping with some of last summer’s offerings, like Neko Case and Andrew Bird.

There was also the fact that the band’s popularity has cooled a bit stateside since its 2004 debut, Hopes and Fears, went gold, spawned two adult rock hits (including the anthem “Somewhere Only We Know” and another on the dance chart) and earned a Grammy nod. Back home, the album was the second-biggest seller that year, moving nearly 3 million copies and snagging several prestigious awards. Keane has retained enough of a following here, though, to see its next two releases debut in the Top 10.

New EP, Night Train, issued in May, was recorded in six countries while Keane was touring the world throughout 2008-09 behind third album Perfect Symmetry. The intriguing collection boasts an international vibe thanks to guest appearances from female Japanese baile funk MC Tigarah (on the Yellow Magic Orchestra cover “Ishin Denshin”) and Somali-Canadian rapper K’Naan.

Wednesday night — the second date of the band’s latest North American jaunt — Keane took the stage to the ominous strains of “House Lights,” a short instrumental that opens Night Train. The 90-minute, 20-song set touched on each release, with surprisingly little culled from Fears and a New Wave-ish “Again and Again,” off Symmetry, launching everything in effervescent fashion.

Among the handful of new selections unveiled live, two fared best: Spanish-tinged “Clear Skies,” for which Chaplin and Rice-Oxley both played guitar (flamenco-esque acoustic and rocking electric, respectively, while the latter also alternated on keys); and current single “Stop for a Minute,” with Chaplin handling all the verses himself (a remix without K’Naan is Top 20 at adult rock radio) and offering theatrical gestures as Rice-Oxley played glistening synth lines.

From the start of Keane’s career, Chaplin has had a robust voice and projected a life-affirming presence on stage, even when he was battling substance addiction behind the scenes. Amazingly, the singer, looking healthier these days, has managed to take those qualities up a notch. Likewise, watching Rice-Oxley shake his body wildly while playing an assortment of distorted and treated piano and keyboards never got boring.

It would have been interesting to see the band attempt more Night Train material, especially Rice-Oxley’s first stab at lead vocals, “Your Love,” and hopefully they will as the tour progresses.

But this set was loaded with highlights nonetheless: the hyper-danceable, synth-dominated “You Haven’t Told Me Anything” … the high flying vocals of “This Is the Last Time” … the moving acoustic ballad “Try Again,” during which everyone huddled at the front of the stage as Chaplin poured his heart out … the strobe-light-assisted rocker “Is It Any Wonder” … another rousing audience singalong to “Somewhere Only We Know” … and the melancholy, dramatic concert closer “Bedshaped.”

Finally, Keane closed with the glorious, atmospheric “Crystal Ball,” in which Chaplin sang “tell me life is beautiful.” Leaving the Greek crowd in a state of music-induced euphoria, everyone would probably respond in the affirmative.

Quirky New York singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson gained a SoCal following through multiple engagements at L.A.’s Hotel CafĂ© in the mid-’00s as well as routine spotlights on TV dramas like Grey’s Anatomy. So she immediately got a wild reaction after she and her tight five-piece band hit the Greek stage ahead of Keane.

Starting with the idyllic folk-pop of “Soldier,” from 2009’s Everybody, the 50-minute set showcased Michaelson’s mellifluous voice and droll sense of humor, like a cross between Joni Mitchell and Jill Sobule. Mostly playing ukulele, she got the audience to participate on some difficult sounds and gestures during “The Hat” … turned in a stark solo take on Radiohead’s “Creep” … impressed with the jaunty hit single “The Way I Am” … and finished with a fast-paced, ironic cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” complete with choreographed dance moves with her band at the end.

Fran Healy, leader of Scotland’s popular and much-revered alt-rock band Travis, began the night with a winsome 40-minute solo acoustic performance. It was his first time on the Greek stage — a place the singer-guitarist admitted wanting to play since once catching Radiohead here.

Much like last year’s stripped-down dates with the band’s lead guitarist, Andy Dunlop (I caught one of their thoroughly entertaining gigs at Largo at the Coronet nearby), background behind the songs was provided. Healy’s passionate delivery on “Writing to Reach You,” for instance, was prefaced with a funny story about nicking the chords from Oasis and later facing author Noel Gallagher about it. He also described an emotionally resonant “Driftwood” as being about the old TV show Cheers and a loser friend, while a Britpop family tree explanation was appended to the comforting Travis tune “Sing.”

Five selections were also unveiled from Healy’s first solo album, Wreckorder, due in October (Paul McCartney and Neko Case make notable contributions). The desperate pleas of “Buttercups,” dark-hued “As It Comes” and dramatic “In the Morning,” for which Healy switched to piano, came across strongest in this format. Can’t wait to hear the whole thing.


Stephanie said...

great review! I'm looking forward to seeing them this week!

newwavegeo said...

Thanks. They are so great live.