If you’re British, it’s probably a no-brainer for you to predict the audience mixture flocking to Keane’s concert at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall: comfortable, marginally hip sexagenarians, with or without their late-30s children who might’ve brought their undergrad children along to a nice family trip-cum-gig. But for a Central European like myself, who has known Keane’s 2004 debut album Hopes and Fears as a popular companion to wistful teenage escapism, the demographic comes as a wee surprise (it’s a whole different world out there on the continent). Another surprise is that even though their newly released Cause and Effect follows a seven-year break, Keane can still pack a venue from top to bottom. Their supporting act Marie White, a fellow East Sussex export, opens the gig with an easy-breezy fusion of sunny R’n’B, emotional vocal flourishes, slightly generic piano chords and some snare drum embellishments for that extra hint of drama.
And in strut Keane. Lead singer Tom Chaplin, fresh out of rehab, might’ve reached 40 but looks like a cocky 15-year old ready for some good time in black skinny jeans, white trainers and silver pompadour. Shaking his index at the audience during Leaving So Soon? or showing an inappropriately chirpy thumbs up for the melancholic You’re Not Home, Chaplin tries to woo the audience with cringy Pop Idol gestures and winner poses. And lo and behold, it works: the audience bobs and claps along to the music; the band is showered with cheers and smiles from people you’d rarely see do either in real life.
Apart from Chaplin, all band members are placed wide apart on a faux ice floe-style platform that’s lit from beneath. There’s not much cohesion; everyone is somehow doing their own thing: Chaplin keeps egging the audience on at the front of the stage while the other band members keep to their corners, an animation with magazine cut-outs and moving lyrics projected above their heads.
But something clicks when the band starts playing songs from their mega success Hopes and Fears: Bend and Break, Everybody’s Changing or Somewhere Only We Know just galvanise people – old girlfriends raise their arms up to heaven as if having an epiphany; Mr Bean lookalikes box into the air and the woman behind me screeches her soul out. If you’re the kind of person whose glass is half-full instead of half-empty, you appreciate the unusual sight with amusement. Chaplin’s voice certainly hasn’t gathered mould over time and songwriter/keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley, bent down seriously over his piano like a chemist in a laboratory, moves from mechanical hammering on the poor piano with a builder’s determination to pushing his stool away in energised frenzy during Is It Any Wonder or Put the Radio On.
These songs remind you how vociferous Keane can get, although the audience does half the job: “The gig in Scotland is always the loudest” admits Chaplin as the audience’s singing-along swells powerfully to almost drown his own – the poor man has to sit down on the platform for a second and laugh. This self-generated excitement dazzles even the most critical ear: The Way I Feel, for example, is of the flat, tepid kind, but the audience’s wall-shaking elation plumps it up with some extra three-dimensionality until you think this might be a decent wee tune. Keane seem somewhat humbled by this experience and the second half of the performance sees Chaplin dropping those dreaded antics and the band playing with more cohesion. “Shall we just carry on?” asks Chaplin as Keane is about to finish their longest live playlist ever – the deafening screaming that follows suggests the band doesn’t need to worry about paying their bills in the future.