Kaiser Chiefs - The Sands Centre, Carlisle
While inter-band strife and messy break-ups are deeply ingrained in the history of pop and rock, it’s actually quite rare for an act’s main songwriter to leave and for the rest of the band to carry on regardless. Sometimes you get a Pink Floyd situation and swap quaint English psychedelia for flying pigs and international success. Other times you needn't lose a songwriter, just the guy who sits at the back and sprinkles the pop fairydust (aka The REM Scenario) and the diagnosis can be terminal.
What the long-term impact for Kaiser Chiefs will be in losing drummer - and muse - Nick Hodgson remains to be seen, although the band have been quick to calm fears that it would result in their falling on their swords. Less than two months since Hodgson made his shock announcement and the KC's are back on tour, nominally to support last year's singles collection Souvenir, but now to also justify their continued existence.
But first Night Engine, whose uninspiring name hides a sturdy line in extravagant synth-driven indie that sees them sit somewhere between British Sea Power and The Associates. Frontman and guitarist Phil McDonnell may look like he’s stumbled out of a 1940s Ealing thriller, but he’s equally unafraid of instilling a little vocal drama atop his bandmates' muscular sound. There’s a familiarity here with serious exponents of 70s electronic bastardry like Clock DVA or DAF; a single (‘The Seventeen’ / ‘Treat Me Like a Baby’) is imminent and seems worthy of investigation.
Not averse to a little theatre themselves, the extant members of Kaiser Chiefs (with Club Smith's Vijay Mistry now ensconced on the drum stool) huddle together on the risers for opener ‘Thank You Very Much’. Wilson seems anxious at what he perceives as a slightly subdued response, but if tonight’s (sold out, it's worth saying) crowd is typical (30-something couples, the barest sprinkling of callow youth) then KC’s will either have to adapt their act to match the stamina of their increasingly middle-aged fan base or simply accept that the boisterous throngs of the Employment days are behind them.
Nevertheless, any other first night nerves are kept hidden and, while this is not some kind of end-of-an-era, grab-whatever-goodwill-you-can Greatest Hits curtain call, the Kaisers have more strength in depth to fall back on than most. They may not quite have the fire of a Weller or Madness' misty-eyed way with a memory but Wilson and co. have a solid back catalogue of man-in-the street-pleasing numbers - probably more, it must be said, than many of those they shared stages with back in the Noughties.
With one eye on the future, they unveil a stompy new song, ‘Living on the Ground’ that strays not one inch from the KC formula but at least lays down some intent. Mistry has a looser style than Hodgson which may let them stray from their Britpop leanings but it's more important someone else in the band finds their inner voice and is able to bash out some other new material.
Their softer side has often been limited to the albums, yet ‘Love’s Not A Competition’ may be the evening’s highlight, while a new, bare ballad (that we’ll call ‘Saying Goodbye’ in the absence of anything official) is a reminder that Wilson actually has a fine singing voice when he's not having to yell out the hits, as on 'I Predict A Riot', the track which inevitably - and finally - gets the whole hall bouncing. A run through of a Stranglers tune and a climactic 'Oh My God' bring the night to an emphatic close, proving there's still some life in the old mods yet.
Setlist: Thank You Very Much / Kinda Girl You Are / Everything Is Average Nowadays / Little Shocks / Like It Too Much / Good Days Bad Days / Every Day I Love You Less and Less / Born To Be A Dancer / Modern Way / Living On The Ground / Heat Dies Down / Love’s Not A Competition (But I’m Winning) / Dead Or In Serious Trouble / Never Miss A Beat / Ruby / I Predict A Riot / The Angry Mob /// ‘Saying Goodbye’ / No More Heroes / Oh My God