at Orpheum Theatre
February 11, 2005
By Andres Wilson
Sitting in a European hotel room last summer, I was just about to turn off
the libidinous, 24-hour slumber party that passes for Music Television on
both sides of the ocean, when I was greeted by a video bathed in chiaroscuro,
supporting one of the catchiest melancholic pop-rock songs that I had ever
heard. It was sung by a long-haired (aux Beatles of their first Ed Sullivan
Show appearance) Brit. He sang in the middle of a marais as dark, ET derived
shiny creatures emerged from a dark forest, perhaps coaxed to come out by
his soothing voice. The entire video was loaded with Peter Pan symbolism and
free of the blatant and tasteless sexuality that has come to define contemporary
pop music. This was a nice group of pretty-boys playing nice music with nice
lyrics for the nice people of the world to listen to before they retired to
their nice beds, and the frontman had a baby face to boot! But a sense of
tristesse added an incredibly human element to the music, salvaging it from
the wasteland of cookie-cutter pop.
Months later when I returned to the states, I heard that voice again somewhere along the airwaves. In fact, it was the same song, Somewhere Only We Know, a Coldplay-inspired, somewhat facile ditty about that ineluctable human sentiment of being an outsider, searching for a perfect place that can only really exist in an idealized memory. The lyric of the chorus reads, Oh simple things- where have you been- Im getting older I need something to believe in. I
later discovered that the band is called Keane, and last week they brought their brand of innocuous Anglo-Saxon rock to Bostons disheveled quasi-opera theatre, the Orpheum.
Imagine facile, not terribly interesting or immediate piano textures laying
the backdrop for the lush, virtuosic vocals of Tom Chaplin. There music is
like poison ivy in that you dont know that it affects
you until you begin to itch. The band has no guitar, and although what they do is extremely refined, they are limited by their unique
instrumentation and remedial technical prowess. All of the songs are piano-driven, and the limited playing ability of keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley allows for very few creative options. As a whole, the lyrics capture universality through cliché, which isnt my cup of tea, but the way Chaplin sings he could be humming the assembly instructions for a chair and people would still be moved.
The Orpheum has hosted such diverse shows as the annual Flamenco festival, theatre, and Green Day, and its lighting system is simply incredible, intensifying the bands ability to create gossamer with sound. The crowd of hipsters, pre-teens, and head-bobbing moms, moms who stood in place with their eyes closed, mouthed the words to Keane songs like a group of lamentful Wendies. Chaplin was quick to show gratitude between songs mentioning that a year ago [they] were playing a tiny venue hear in Boston, now we are playing to all of you, it really is nice, to which the crowd politely roared. His voice never verged on cockney but rather embodied the clearly defined musicality of a young English chap who had just grown out of his boyhood knickers.
As with many of todays mainstream acts, Keane will probably only ever
be known for that wonderful single Somewhere Only We Know, the
rest of their material forgotten in a downward twirling whirlpool of homogeny.
But to their credit, the quality of their writing, though lacking fire or
real depth, is way beyond most radio fair, transcending age groups and various
tastes with its inquisitive sense of wonder and lament. Where they are deficient
is simply in their own instrumental abilities. Chaplin, though the youngest
in the group, is clearly the
bands most gifted performer. He has a wonderful pair of lungs and prances across the stage like a young and untainted David Bowie, pre-drugs and licentiousness. Keane are currently touring the US. Their debut CD Hopes and Fears is currently available at all major
record stores and online.