If there's anything New York loves more than a buzz band, it's forgetting about a buzz band. It's hard to stay new for long in this town, and when a band is finally confronted with the reality that the fervor that greeted its naissance has dwindled, it can be awfully painful to watch. After seeing the Brighton-based Kooks play a decent-but-not-great set at Bowery Ballroom last fall, I wondered if their window had already begun to close. Hadn't the Fratellis stolen the Kooks' career right out from under them?
So I arrive late to their performance last month at the Fillmore New York, thinking I'll be able to casually wade through the concertgoers and make my way to the stage area.
I am mistaken.
The room is packed, the air is thick with sweat, and I end up having to watch the show from the back of the club. The Kooks have just launched into "Matchbox," the anthem of their 2006 debut, Inside In/Inside Out, and it's clear from the very beginning that the crowd is really going to give it up for them. Sure, it's a different crowd than the one at the Bowery -- this one's full of novelty tees and cargo shorts, showing why Inside In/Inside Out has sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide even if the band hasn't earned the respect of the American indierati. They've been criticized for being post-punk retreads, for writing adolescent lyrics, and -- maybe the worst crimes of all -- for being young and British.
This doesn't seem to bother vocalist/guitarist Luke Pritchard, who's been thankful just to receive a break from the gossip-peddling U.K. press. "It's a lot less tabloid-based over here," Pritchard says before the first of the band's two New York shows. "Maybe because we've just started, it feels like over in the U.K. there are so many stories that just come out, stories about us. Maybe they're true; it doesn't really matter," he says, laughing. "It's just a bit weird. The press would rather talk about that, really, than the music."
Of all the guitar-based bands to make their way across the Atlantic over the past few years, The Kooks have as good a shot as any at achieving long-term success. Arctic Monkeys are already pushing back against the fans who made their debut such a success. Bloc Party has seemingly already given up on writing tunes. And, Kaiser Chiefs, well, see the first sentence of this article. It's not especially difficult to see The Kooks carving out a niche in between indie and mainstream, almost like a post-Britpop version of the Chili Peppers. Really, it all depends on the second album, which, more often than any other record, indicates whether or not a band has a career's worth of good songs inside it.
"I would obviously say this, but I think the new stuff is far superior to the first record," Pritchard says. "You never know with these things, but I think it's going to be great. Four guys in a room and great tunes -- that's the idea. Always."
They're planning to start recording in August with producer Tony Hoffer. Given the brand of music The Kooks play, though, and given where they're from -- let's be honest, producing strong second albums hasn't exactly been a trademark of U.K. bands in recent years -- the possibility of a sophomore slump looms. "I think [it happens] just because things change," Pritchard says of poor follow-ups. "Like Noel Gallagher: He wrote all the songs before he became big. I mean, he still writes great tunes, but it's obviously going from being in Manchester to being a millionaire. I think it's all to do with the writing. You can't really write about having a shit time when you're living in a mansion.
"We're definitely not going to start writing about the perils of fame," Pritchard says, with a laugh. "We're still going to write about girls."
Before performing at the Fillmore, Pritchard tells me that he's found the American crowds to be a bit timid. "Whenever I go in the crowd [in the United States], everyone seems to go back. Everyone's almost scared of me. I'm not going to hurt you," he says with a laugh. But the fans are showing no such timidity tonight: At one point, Pritchard darts toward the edge of the stage and is almost swallowed whole by the crowd. Whoever constitutes The Kooks fan base, one thing is for sure: They're avid devotees.
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