Irrepressible indie outfit underline their enduring charm and appeal with an energetic performance.
As the crowds ambled, rather than ran, towards Berlin’s impressive Tempodrom, the most striking feature of the assembled bodies was their diversity. From bouncing young teenagers to older and more restrained faces, I felt surprise at seeing so many faces that hadn’t been here ‘the first time around’. The ticket desks purported further ticket availability which was unsurprising given the 40€ price and that it was a Tuesday night.
Since their 2006 album ‘Inside In / Inside Out’, the Kooks have enjoyed rather than enhanced their place in indie folklore. A part of the emergent 00s UK scene, they have been relatively quiet in recent years with last year’s Let’s Go Sunshine their first new effort since 2014. However, this European tour has been a reminder of their reach, taking the band throughout Europe and selling out home dates in the UK. “We’re clinging on,” said singer Luke Pritchard about their European identity and heritage, and the same might be said for the affections of their fans.
Support act Blossoms took to the stage after the fading sounds of Belle & Sebastian’s ‘Boy With the Arab Strap’- just in case anyone had forgotten they were attending an indie concert. Their stage outfits were straight from the 70s. Singer Tom Ogden sauntered the stage in a flared red velour suit, economical in his approach and reserving wild microphone swings for the end of the set. Their sound, an electronic inflection that in its best moments recalls Depeche Mode, did not particularly grab the somewhat staid Berlin audience.
Tried and tested methods no doubt, but there is a palpable closeness by the mid-set that dispelled that “Tuesday night” vibe.
With too many guitar solos, the songs plodded along at a middling tempo. Occasionally they resembled some of the worst elements of the 70s, i.e. musical overindulgence and Dad-rock. Their attitudes were significantly less exuberant than their outfits. “This feels like a Tuesday night,” remarked Ogden and it was with an air of resignation that they finished with their best song, ‘Charlamagne’. Their pockets of fans cheered adoringly but the majority were already anticipating the headline act.
The Kooks burst onto the stage and launched into opener ‘Always Where I Need to Be’. The contrast from Blossoms could scarcely be more marked: here was a band enjoying themselves, comfortable in the spotlight and hungry to win the affections of the crowd. They didn’t shy away from the songs that punters had come for either, wasting little time before ‘She Moves in Her Own Way’ and ‘Ooh La’. They energised a broad selection from their output with an enthusiasm that masked its somewhat inconsistent quality. The stunning venue, lighting and stage setup brought a circus feel to proceedings, with Pritchard the master of ceremonies.
The set moved through the bands five albums, and spoke to the development of the band following their indie rock origins. Touching on classic rock to hip hop, their back catalogue is that of a band unafraid to experiment. Guitar player Hugh Harris took lead vocal responsibilities for No Longer, which could pass for a Smiths B-side and which alluded to other, more familiar paths that the band may have gone down if not their own eclectic one. Perhaps due to these stylistic leaps, the middle of the set dragged slightly with even Pritchard seeming unconvinced when introducing “disco” song ‘Forgive & Forget’.
Unpretentiousness and warmth permeated the set, with Pritchard showing sincere gratitude for Blossoms and for the crowd.
The biggest noise was reserved for the hits, ‘Seaside’ provoking a venue-wide sing-along and dancing in the galleries. There was a quieter, emotional moment when Pritchard took to the LED-piano for ‘See Me Now’, dedicated to his late father, prompting a glittering array of phone torches to illuminate the room. Between songs the band bantered easily with each other and the crowd, big cheers coming for stilted attempts at German and derisory remarks about rival city Hamburg. Tried and tested methods no doubt, but there is a palpable closeness by the mid-set that dispelled that “Tuesday night” vibe.
Unpretentiousness and warmth permeated the set, with Pritchard showing sincere gratitude for Blossoms and for the crowd. With little critical acclaim since their early album offerings, it is indeed the fans that have sustained the band this long but the younger generations in the crowd are testament to their songwriting talents (not to mention their easy charm and almost irritatingly good-looking hair). It is no mean feat to sustain a career in music for this long and (recent lineup changes aside) this seems a group of men who seem to have learned how to have a good time together.
As the set drew to a close, singalong ‘Junk of the Heart (Happy)’ presented itself as something of a manifesto for the band. “I want to make you happy”. It is easy to believe them. The Kooks aren’t afraid to relive their glory days of old and give the crowd what they want, their encore rounding off with old favourite Naïve. Pritchard and Harris lingered and embraced for a moment before leaving the stage. This is a band who are unafraid to savour their impressive legacy and are totally at ease in their careers and in the spotlight. Even if their most innovative musical days are behind them, only a stoney heart would begrudge them the chance to ride their early wave a while yet.
A Scottish troubadour, scientist, writer. Jack of few trades.