By Paul Rogers
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).
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So Kaiser Chiefs' songwriting still scores, but this workmanlike performance was, in soccer parlance, just an injury-hit away draw.