Thursday, August 12, 2010

Still Not All That Keane

Concert Review

with Ingrid Michaelson
and Fran Healy
Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee
August 10, 2010

Although I've enjoyed the British band Keane, to a certain extent, since seeing them on Live 8 in 2005, I took a pass on attending their concert when they played in Chicago a few weeks ago.

Even after my friend Paolo and sister Allison raved about the Chicago show, I didn't feel any great remorse about missing it. I had seen Keane in 2007 and felt the crowd was a bit too adoring, as to me the trio had a few really good songs and filled their set with a bunch of songs that struck me as just lesser duplications of the better ones. And though they have a new EP out, I hadn't gotten it and didn't love the one song I heard.

But I received a number of emails promoting their Tuesday night show in Milwaukee's comfortable Riverside Theatre, so after going to Milwaukee to see an Evel Knievel exhibit at the Harley-Davidson museum, I was able to get a great seat for Keane an hour before showtime.

In a nutshell, they weren't bad and I wasn't sad I went, especially supported by a couple solid opening acts, but very similar to my feeling when I saw them in 2007, I can't say that I found them phenomenal. Of 90 minutes on stage, only about 30 were really first-rate, with the rest mostly filler from a band that doesn't seem to be pushing themselves as hard as they could.

First up on the triple bill was Fran Healy, singer & songwriter of the Scottish band Travis. He interacted quite affably with the crowd in delivering an enjoyable 45-minute solo acoustic set. Per his song intros, he played a few Travis cuts, but I was disappointed he omitted the one I know (Why Does It Always Rain on Me). In addition to citing recorded collaborations with Neko Case and Paul McCartney, he did give a somewhat apt overview of the last 15 years of British rock. "Oasis + Radiohead spawned Travis, Travis + Radiohead = Coldplay, Coldplay + Travis = Keane, etc." 

Next up was Ingrid Michaelson, a singer I didn't really know except one song Allison had played for me. But she winsomely led an equally coed six-piece band through a pleasant set, with engaging humor in her stage patter. Mid-set, she did a solo rendition of Creep that I thought could have been greatly enhanced had she gotten Healy to duet with her.

After about 20 minutes of Keane anticipation (sorry, couldn't resist), the headliners took the stage around 9:10. They opened strong, with three good songs including Bend And Break and Everybody's Changing from their 2004 debut, Hopes and Fears. But from there on out, the only songs I acutely remember two days later are their hit singles, "Is It Any Wonder?" and "Somewhere Only We Know" (setlist).

Lead singer Tom Chaplin has a really good voice and the band has written a handful of decent pop songs, but they just come off as far too clean. The addition of a touring bassist and Chaplin's occasional guitar-playing has punched up their live sound (previously consisting of keyboards & drums) but there's never any sense of daring, danger or much consequence in their music. I know Chaplin has been through rehab in the past, but he still comes across as someone without much soul (which is a shame given his voice). Wearing a polo shirt and shiny white sneakers on stage doesn't make one a bad guy, but Chaplin and the rest of Keane might do well to force themselves to write songs on the streets of New Orleans, Memphis or somewhere that might give them some edge.

Paolo, whose musical tastes I respect and even share to a large degree, called Keane's Chicago show "the best concert" he's seen this year, two weeks after giving Hole that honor and two before awarding the crown to Green Day. Maybe they lost their mojo between Chicago and Milwaukee, but I tend to doubt that's why Keane wouldn't come anywhere close to the top of my list, and I haven't seen half the shows that Paolo has. But I guess that's what makes music great; everybody hears it a different way. And one person's "eh, so-so" is bound to be another's "quite Keane." 

(Here's video I shot of Keane's best song, Somewhere Only We Know, at least until my memory ran out.)

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