Eight years into their career – despite feuds, rehab stints, and hiatuses for various reasons – Keane has proven that they’re still on top. By performing on an ACL Live Showcase, they have certifiably reached one of music’s highest echelons of recognition.
Strangeland may be a misnomer for the direction Keane has taken on their latest album. Unlike Perfect Symmetry, the band’s third album, where they experimented with different electronic-influenced sounds, Strangeland seems to regress back to the same piano-pounding, heavy-hooked Brit-pop that landed them success with 2004’s Hopes and Fears. Thursday’s taped show was a balance of the old and new; a heavy dose of nostalgia deftly mixed with lesser known tracks.
Despite a slight dissonance in the styles of song played, the performance was a cohesive and dominant one. Tim Rice-Oxley’s anthemic, piano-laden melodies coalesced with Tom Chaplin’s soaring vocals to bring forth a truth I had previously doubted – Keane sounds better live than in recording, way better.
The lights then dimmed and Keane proceeded to open their set with upbeat new tracks like “You Are Young” and “On the Road,” as well as fan favorite “Bend and Break.” But it wasn’t until Tom cajoled the crowd with a few words that the set really took off. “ Tonight is a special night. We’ve got all these expensive cameras on us and we’re back in one of our favorite cities in the world! You guys just keep dancing, shouting and cheering the whole night and we should be alright!”
They then went into an urgent “Nothing In My Way,” followed by a Springsteen-esque “Silenced By the Night,” before returning back to their debut album for super-hit “Everybody’s Changing,” and the blissfully melancholic, “She Has No Time.” The highlight of Keane’s set could be found in the underrated gem, “A Bad Dream,” of which Tom sang with such depth and lament that it was hard not to have been moved by his performance. The somberness continued with “Hamburg Song” and “My Shadow” before picking up again with my favorite track off of Strangeland, “Disconnected.” It wasn’t long, however, before we were back to Hopes and Fears for the final songs of the set.
2004 was an unbelievable year for Indie albums – the Arcade Fire had Funeral, Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News brought them into the mainstream, and Interpol’s Antics became an instant classic. Yet it was a trio of lifelong friends, and their pristine album Hopes and Fears, that would serve as the highlight of 2004. Every song on the album has its own uniqueness, and an emotional depth that has gone unrivaled in the years following. This explains why, eight years later, Keane is still ending their sets with tracks off this album.
On Thursday night, the band finished with the melodious “This is the Last Time,” the infectious sing-a-long tune “Somewhere Only We Know,” and the epically morose “Bedshaped,” only to come back for a three song encore including new tracks “Sea Fog” and “Sovereign Light Café,” and ending with “Crystal Ball”.
Keane will always be in the shadow of the success of Hopes and Fears, and they will undoubtedly continue to try and surpass it in the future. As they grow as artists, they will hopefully continue to explore new mediums and experiment with different sounds and styles. Whether they end up growing or alienating their audience with their future albums is something out of their control. What they can control is their live show, which is impeccable, and that’s all a good band really needs.