There are 5000 pairs of hands in the air, some clapping, some held aloft in the moment. 5000 sets of lungs bellow out the song’s final chorus while Tom Chaplin, looking out from on top of a stage prop, clenches his fist and stamps his feet. As the rest of Keane play their final chords Brixton Academy erupts, unleashing a deep, surprisingly visceral noise. This, you think, is how all gigs should start. As if they’re just about to finish. That the noise is so loud and lasts so long after the group decide to open with ‘You Are Young’ from their still-very-new Strangeland album confirms that this isn’t a Friday night crowd here to enjoy ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ before a mug of hot cocoa and bed. Say what you want about Keane – and many people do – but there is no denying that a hell of a lot of people care very deeply about this band.
Cast against the mainstreaming of guitar bands during the mid noughties Keane, perhaps through no fault of their own, always seemed like a very poor attempt at an indie band. Not necessarily due to their sound, but because they arrived at a time when every other gang of young white men were trying to climb to the top of the indie-disco pile. Now in 2012 –when pop no longer seems to be a dirty word and half of those indie bands couldn’t headline Brixton Academy if they gave away tickets – as the group charge through their 22 song setlist, Keane make a lot more sense.
With Strangeland returning to the chiming piano pop they made their name with after Perfect Symmetry’s experiment with big beats and wonky synths sold relatively poorly, it comes as no surprise that the set is drawn almost entirely from their three most conventional albums – its gleaming title track is in fact Perfect Symmetry’s only survivor, which allows Keane to spend two hours being the Keane that almost everyone here came to see.
This isn’t however the sound of a group reluctantly playing the oldies. Plenty of Strangeland is aired tonight and the more vintage pieces are tucked into with impressive gusto. Of the former it’s the shimmering ‘Neon River’ and the camp bombast of ‘On The Road’ that work best and whip the audience into one almighty tizzy. Of the old, it’s the darker material of 2006’s Under The Iron Sea that hits hardest, with ‘Is It Any Wonder’ beefed up and bolstered to stadium size, while ‘A Bad Dream’ sees Chaplin sighing ‘I’m a man, I was born to hate’ before keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley pounds his instrument into submission during an effects-laden solo.
On many occasion the band can do more between songs that stand applaud the often minutes-long hysteria that marks the end of a song. Chaplin, an impressive and wonderfully camp frontman, thanks the audience, the venue and support band like the nice boys they are having turned in a frankly jaw dropping vocal performance. “It’s Friday night in London Town!” he hollers, safe in the knowledge that tonight London Town, or at least 5000 of its residents, have been in the palm of his hand. Their sales may suggest otherwise but make no mistake, this is Keane’s time.
Earlier in the evening Zulu Winter (read our interview with them here) turned in an impressive half an hour of groove-based dance-pop. With the first few songs marred by sound troubles as Henry Walton’s guitar refused to play ball it wasn’t until the undeniable ‘Silver Tongue’ that the Oxford five-piece truly hit their stride and begin to warm the receptive crowd. The blissed out ‘People That You Must Remember’ sounds oddly brilliant in such a large, echoey space, while the shimmying ‘Let’ Move Back To The Front’ gets more than just a few hips moving. It’s all rather impressive.