Could it be? Could it be that you’re joking with me and you don’t really see you with me?
The Kaiser Chiefs weren’t joking at all as they pummeled the sold-out 9:30 Club Friday night with a one-two punch in a testosterone-fueled new wave rampage. The lads from Leeds (UK) never missed a beat as they rocked out through songs about hanging out with their fellows, scoffing at the lack of intelligence among the masses, and questioning the veracity of women.
I always absolutely loved the music of the Kaiser Chiefs after being introduced to the upbeat songs from their first album Employment, which skillfully married punk sensibilities to new wave dance tunes. The Kaiser Chiefs delivered great advice for men by men on that album: watch your back, love your friends, mind your diet, and keep a wary eye on women. Indeed, the band writes music primarily for men while many of their new wave contemporaries create music for girls.
The Kaiser Chiefs also have the perfect line-up, first formalized in my mind by my all-time favorite band Duran Duran. Both have five male members and the exact same instrumental breakdown: voice (Ricky Wilson), guitar (Andrew White), bass (Simon Rix), drums (Nick Hodgson), and keyboards (Nick Baines). The primary differences between the Kaiser Chiefs and a band like Duran Duran are that the keyboards rule D2 and the Kaiser Chiefs are far far more biting than their new wave predecessors, bringing a punk snarl to otherwise sophisticated, melodic songs.
The sarcasm and wit of the Kaiser Chiefs’ stompalongs make you want to throw back a few ales with your drinking buddies and snarl forlornly through songs like “Starts With Nothing” from their new US album, Start the Revolution Without Me, declaring “Yes, that is my final answer!” along with the refrain — although it’s not much different substantively than “New Moon on Monday,” a song also nominally about the loneliness of beginnings and endings if more cryptically so. Lyrically speaking, of course, the Kaisers owe a bigger debt to the likes of The Stranglers and The Damned. (Why are there no Kaiser Chiefs covers of “Always the Sun” or “Grimly Fiendish,” dammit?)
Kaiser frontman Wilson powered through their songs, bouncing, dancing, and wailing across the security rail in front of the 9:30 Club stage and eventually onto the bar at stage left, where of course he poured himself a beer from the taps! The Kaiser Chiefs tore through a lot of their incredible first album, best known and loved by their American fans, and hit a few highlights from their terrific second album and less terrific third album. They also had plenty of good new material from the aforementioned fourth album, which perhaps clocks in as the second-best album for the gents with its smooth electropop mix. The extremely satisfying fourth album glistens with a late-era David Bowie sheen, perhaps in part because a few of the songs were produced by longtime Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti.
The Kaiser Chiefs also have been debuting perhaps their most earnestly new wave song ever during this tour — a non-album track called “Listen to Your Head,” which again contains sage advice for guys who want to play it smart but perhaps suffer from a few regrets. With tracks like this, the band would provide the perfect soundtrack to a movie where a couple of tough guys like Daniel Craig and Vinnie Jones work hard all day taking out fellow gangsters only to get a bit sensitive about it over a few beers at night. And the men in the front of the audience certainly got that vibe and moshed it out to perennial favorites like “I Predict a Riot,” “The Angry Mob,” and “Oh My God,” which perfectly closed the show’s encore with its shoutalong chorus. My concert buddies, Doug and Jeremy, and I knew every word to every song (except the one we had never heard) — even the new stuff. The Kaiser Chiefs sound amazing live and a lot of their songs were well known and well loved by the crowd, which enjoyed every triumphant moment.
But a lot of the Kaisers’ best stuff is about heartache and sometimes subversively so. They opened their set with the utterly amazing “Every Day I Love You Less and Less,” a blistering attack on a rejected lover. (I have to pause here and give a big hearty thanks to Bill Spieler and Shannon Stewart, who have provided many many manic dance nights at DC9′s Liberation Dance Party capped off with this fantastic tune, which serves as the theme song for my dancehall compatriots, the Imaginary Boys.)
A lot of the new Kaiser Chiefs songs continue this tradition of heartache and longing, with songs like “Kinda Girl You Are,” which leaves the gents wondering if that particular girl is really just playing with their feelings and if she’s too cold or too distant to truly love them back. It’s an entirely different song than the popular track “Ruby” although thematically similar. “Ruby,” which was certainly a mid-concert highlight, also compels the men in the audience to sing along, which they do because it’s soooo good that they cannot help themselves.
And “Ruby” presents the kind of perfect moment that only the Kaiser Chiefs can summon — you know you’re about to have your heart broken and you have to press pause before that final moment comes. You can sing it to a girl who doesn’t truly get it, as I always did with a breathtakingly beautiful girl I’ll call Yasmin, a girl who famously danced with me for a time. The fun of songs like “Ruby” is that you can always personalize them so that lyrics like “Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, and do ya, do ya, do ya, know what ya doing, doing to me?” instantly become “Yassy, Yassy, Yassy…” instead.
And while girls like Yasmin will never really get it, your best chaps in the Kaiser Chiefs will understand you at the end of the day when you’re left alone asking, “Could it be, could it be that you’re joking with me and you don’t really see you with me?”