Keane and State go back a long way. We first bumped into the band in the early part of the new century, when Dubliner Dominic Scott had just left his role as guitarist, and a full three years before debut album Hopes And Fears bought the band national and international radio play. Back then, Keane made their living supporting mid-level acts on the UK indie circuit. -Bedshaped’ and -Sunshine’ were getting their first airing, and the band were a subtle, heartfelt act in the piano driven singer songwriter mould, much like a more touching and less contrived Coldplay.
A decade down the line, it’s a dramatically different act that shows up on the Olympia’s stage tonight. Sure, the Coldplay comparison still stands, but Keane have stadium-ised their act in a big way. Front man Tom Chaplin – a dead ringer for British Prime Minister David Cameron, which makes his -rock out’ moments particular comic – has become a confident, smiling vocalist, strutting and egging on the crowd throughout the set, his vocals inarguably strong. The sound has become more expansive, with Keane edging into territory that has musical similarities to pretty much every mainstream pop -rock’ act of the last twenty years. -Original’ no longer applies, but at their best Keane are a class act.
For the first half an hour, the charms take over and Keane’s best side is in full flow. Early tracks like -This Is The Last Time’, -Can’t Stop Now’ and -Bend And Break’ are infectious sing along songs, more vibrant and simplistic than the newer tracks scattered around them, and stand out well above the crowd. In fact it’s noticeable throughout the night that the contents of that debut is still most fans’ favorites. The reason is simple: much of Keane’s newer material is little better than a dirge. New effort -Clear Skies’ is the perfect example, a track of such inherent nothingness that the bar calls us half way through. -Spiraling’ and -Put It Behind You’ fall into the same category, and create a middle half an hour that we need matchsticks in the eyes to stand through. Our plus one is so uninspired they choose a lazy walk home as the preferable option.
The draining, muffled moments of musical dullness are emphasized only more by the exuberance the better tracks are greeted by. -Bedshaped’, the opening track of the encore, still touches a nerve somewhere deep down, and is ten times the live track of any of Keane’s more recent material. The moments of emotion, featuring memorable crowd-led renditions of radio-friendly hits like -Crystal Ball’ are Everest-like highlights among more recent filler tracks, some of which are so poor that only the odd single prompts the slightest nod of the head. The contrast is unreal, not that it matters to the assembled, who love every second of it.
All in, Keane is an exceptionally polished act and produce a near exact replica of what you get on one of their albums in a live setting, albeit with the added bonus of a crowd that’s absolutely lapping it up, singing back every word and prompting Chaplin to indulge in the kind of self-important stage-front promotion that makes him look, frankly, a little ridiculous. Despite this they are occasionally wonderful to the point of tear jerking, especially in their slower and less Brandon Flowers-influenced moments. In performing those more recently, restyled tracks, though, Keane have lost everything that made them interesting in the first place. After all this time, it’s still those same songs from a decade ago that make all the running.
Photos: Sara Devine.