If there are such things — and there probably are — Kasabian’s September 26 show at New York City’s Webster Hall was an important gig. Although it’s somewhat reviled by local concertgoers for its lack of intimacy and ridiculous alternate existence as a dance club, Webster Hall has nonetheless replaced Irving Plaza as the city’s premier mid-sized venue. As such, it’s become a resume requirement for any band from the U.K. looking to cause a splash in the States. It simply has a knack for distilling the bands that have a shot at large-scale success in America (see: Monkeys, Arctic) from those that will have to resort to playing smaller venues the next time around (see: Futureheads, The).
As a live act, Kasabian brings a lot to the table: the rhythm section is strong, the electronic flourishes are trippy, and vocalist Tom Meighan, with his Liam-meets-Jagger sauntering, might just be the most charismatic frontman in rock today. The Gallagher brothers — and, of course, NME — have anointed Kasabian as their natural successor, and the members of Kasabian certainly did their best to look the part, donning the kind of post-Madchester garb popularized by the monobrowed Mancunians. And so, making their return to the Big Apple after paying their dues with an incredible performance at Bowery Ballroom last winter, the members of Kasabian took the stage with one goal in mind: demonstrating that their fist-pumping debut album (which guitarist Serge Pizzorno has deemed “sketchy nonsense”) was only a red herring, and that their recently released follow-up, Empire, is not only the realization of their true artistic vision, but also one of the best albums ever made.
This proved to be quite a tall order. As confident and expertly produced a record as Empire may be, it only features one or two real tunes, and most of its tracks simply don’t translate well live. Early set numbers “Shoot the Runner” and “Sun Rise Light Flies” made it clear that in lieu of taking a page out of the Muse playbook and simply strumming along to a lot of pre-recorded music, Kasabian has opted to attempt to reproduce the Empire sound as organically as possible, save for “The Doberman,” which featured a trumpet nowhere to be found on stage.
Although admirable in theory, this approach made for a pretty muddled set. The drums and bass were turned up so high that they drowned out both guitarists, who were rendered so irrelevant that they may as well not even have shown up for the gig. Meighan did his best to get the crowd excited about the new material, constantly exhorting everyone to “raise up,” but he still couldn’t get much of a reaction for tracks like “Me Plus One,” “Sun Rise Light Flies” and “By My Side.” While it’s certainly not uncommon for fans to clamor for the old stuff, in this instance, you couldn’t help but feel that they were justified. In the words of one dissatisfied audience member, the songs from Empire sounded like “Primal Scream at their worst.”
Things took a sharp turn upward at the end of the set, though, with a particularly thunderous rendition of “Club Foot” that finally shook the sold-out crowd awake. Kasabian followed this with the superb “Stuntman,” the only song off of Empire (with perhaps the exception of the title track) that really stands up live, and closed the set with the Britpop throwback anthem “L.S.F.” Sketchy nonsense? Hardly.
Kasabian walked off stage and the lights came on; there would be no encore, and the crowd, not terribly disappointed, filed out quickly. While this show may have stopped just short of spelling disaster for Kasabian, it only gave credence to every critic who’s called “hype!” on these lads from Leicester. The coronation that they’d been waiting for, if it comes at all, will have to wait until album number three.
“Shoot the Runner” stream