By Paul Rogers
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Kaiser Chiefs hail from soccer-mad Leeds in northern England. A Leeds United scarf hangs from one of their bass cabinets and they're named after a South African soccer club which sold a pair of celebrated players to the local team. Sure enough, their tuneful, efficient guitar pop has a chant-ready, multi-voiced football terrace quality personified by repetitive radio fave "Ruby." And they're utterly English: dangling from the Kinks-XTC-Jam family tree and evoking extremely Blur-y instant-nostalgia images of all-the-lads-together pub nights, teen romance in terraced houses and hangovers in greasy spoon cafés.
Last night the Chiefs seemed distracted by the absence of appendicitis-stricken keysman 'Peanut' Baines (though a stand-in provided some of his, err, key New Wave-ish licks) – or perhaps the relatively modest Fonda is a shock after playing stadiums back in Blighty. Polo-shirted front-bloke Ricky Wilson does his bit, alternating between an Ian Curtis mic-drape and rather floppy pogo-ing while getting stuck in amongst the front rows; and drummer Nick Hodgson seems well up for it (and provides the crucial backing vocals). But until the last few numbers, mop-haired guitarist "Whitey" White and bobbing bass boy Simon Rix look like they’d rather be at their bandmate's bedside.
For all their sea-shanty sing-alongs (not quite summoning Jack Sparrow, but maybe one of his Hollywood Boulevard look-a-likes), Kaiser Chiefs aren't dumbing it down – there's social comment amidst their sometimes comic lyrics and current single "Never Miss A Beat," with its sarky "it's cool to know nothing" refrain, is an anti-anti-intellectualism anthem. The material from their new album, Off With Their Heads – the jaunty "Good Days and Bad Days" and an insistent "Can’t Say What I Mean" – stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the stuff from their other two full-lengths aired at the Fonda: U.S. breakthrough "I Predict a Riot" and "Modern Way" (from 2005's Employment); and "The Angry Mob" and "Heat Dies Down" (from last year’s Yours Truly, Angry Mob).
So Kaiser Chiefs' songwriting still scores, but this workmanlike performance was, in soccer parlance, just an injury-hit away draw.