The Kooks Crow, Joywave Soars in Austin
When all was said and done with the Kooks’ concert at Emo’s Austin Tuesday night (April 28), the British indie rock quartet – now smack in the middle of the second U.S. tour leg supporting last September’s full-length, Listen – made the act of powering through 75 minutes of catchy-as-hell pop-rock look exceedingly easy.
Triflingly easy, in a good handful of cases. During almost every track that came out ahead of Listen, there was a lack of feeling in frontman Luke Pritchard’s vocal delivery, and – though each song sounded crisp and full – the musicians’ performance was a bit uninspired. This was in stark contrast to opening act Joywave, who – determined to make their “first non-SXSW show in Austin” a smash – never stopped moving for a moment and praised their audience for participating every step of the way.
The difference with the Kooks was particularly glaring during songs from the mostly-ignored 2008 album Konk: The modicum of enthusiasm in Pritchard’s “Do dodo do do do do” bit on “Always Where I Need to Be” sounded consistently disingenuous, “Sway” sounded hollow where it once spewed soulfulness and “See the Sun” played out like a rehearsal – absolutely perfect, but lacking in spirit. True, it probably becomes tiresome running through these obligatory hits each night, but if you have the song down to the point where playing it barely requires a thought, why not go a little nuts with the stage show?
In all fairness, the band has toured unstintingly with few breaks since last summer, so exhaustion can’t be ruled out as the culprit. But part of Pritchard’s persona is his incomparably energetic performance – it’s been a leg up for him in an ever-expanding sonic arena of Arctic Monkeys and Fratellis sound-alikes. Besides, the new stuff had so much oomph packed into it -- would've been nice to see it with the older tracks, too.
We have to hand it the guys: The guitar solo duel on “Down” read like a formidable Jimi Hendrix tribute, “Dreams” explored new classic rock-inspired territory (a la the prettiest of R.E.M.) and “See Me Now” – a song about the death of Pritchard’s father that’s driven largely by the frontman’s rich piano lead – succeeded as the most soul-baringly powerful encore intro possible.
Yet, while experimenting with shades of new styles like R&B (“Sweet Emotion”) and funk (“Forgive & Forget”) was definitely interesting, many of the hooks felt recycled -- Bill Withers and the Bee Gees already did ‘em better! And that was a shame considering the favoritism toward those cuts shunned the remaining gems from 2006 debut Inside In/Inside Out and Konk, still the group’s best collections.
Though it was obvious they’d choose to close on early hit “Naïve,” one had to admire the perseverance of that fan in the back scream-requesting “Jackie Big T-ts” throughout the entire encore. They probably should have played it instead – changing up the set list on the fly would’ve taken the energy of the show to a new, much-needed level.
Check out our exclusive photo gallery from the night up above.