The Kooks, Morning Benders,

The Troubadour, February 7

It's been two years to the day that The Kooks' first (and so far only) album Inside In Inside Out came out in the States. Full of bouncy, fun pop songs, it faded away surprisingly fast, never gaining much traction beyond the people who listen obsessively to anything out of England, especially with a Bowie-inspired band name.

But the album's never-ending spawn of single after single allowed the Kooks to keep things trucking along: Tours, an entire acoustic version of the album, a batch of B-sides as good as the A-sides, and like everyone else in 2006, a Gnarks Barkeley cover. To think, a single iTunes commercial would have accomplished overnight what the Kooks worked hard at here for a couple of years now.

So now that they have the fans willing to listen, will the new songs be worth listening to? Unlike Mikael Wood, I haven't heard Konk, nor I imagine have many people inside the absolutely packed Troubadour tonight. They wisely start out with “See the World,” from their first album, to make sure everyone stays on their side.

Luke Pritchard looks downright fab, with a peasant-shirt open to his chest and curly locks that fit him like a hat. He jumps around the stage in total confidence, switching between an acoustic guitar and an electric that's missing every knob and looks like it was rescued too late from a tenement fire. He's got some Jagger swagger to him, and runs the crowd like a wind-up toy, moving from known song to new one, never getting boring (or worse) sounding bored.

The Konk songs are in there, and they mix in nicely. I've got a sneaking feeling that the words “darker” and “mature” will find their way into the reviews when it's released in April, codewords for “not as fun as the first album.” That's not to say that they'll be right. There are still hooks a-plenty, and the crowd bounces along with the band, waving their eight dollar Coronas in the air, snapping Kooks pix on phones and digitals, then texting away to their friends who are either across town or across the room.

The Kooks' encore begins with a lovely solo version of “Seaside,” a song that this room full of transplants to Southern California identify with intimately, and the sing-along interplay between Pritchard and the audience blends together sweetly.

There was a good number of people listening attentively to The Morning Benders' opening set. The riff of their opening song sounded suspiciously Kooks-like. But that's probably due more to common '60s influences of both bands. So if you guessed that the Berkeley band plays catchy, jangly pop tunes, right you are!

With a couple of indie EP releases under their belts, The Benders' debut album comes out in the spring. Lead singer Chris Chu looks like he's just old enough to get his driver's license and wears a neat, button-down blue oxford, telegraphing an innocent charm that probably works wonders with girls after their shows. They've got strong songs to boot, particularly “Waiting for a War.” If they seemed a little timid on stage – especially compared to the Kooks' exuberance, at least they weren't trying to mask it with volume and fuzz. The songs and Chu's voice are the key to the Morning Benders, and if you're lucky enough to have a ticket to tonight's repeat of this double bill at the Echo, do yourself a favor and show up in time to see them.

All photos by Timothy Norris

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