Monday, May 14, 2007

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT: Illinois & The Kooks at Irving Plaza, 5/11/07

Illinois & The Kooks at Irving Plaza, 5/11/07


Illinois @ Irving Plaza 5/10/07

Let it be known, Illinois is why I came to see this show. I'd caught them once before, stealing the show at the +1 Music Anniversary Party in March at Luna Lounge in Williamsburg, opening long before luminaries like Stellastarr had taken the stage.

Illinois at the Luna Lounge

The very first thing I thought was, "There's some heavy-hitting drummer back there, and I gotta get closer." John-Paul Kuyper sits low to the ground, hunched over a kick, a pair of toms, a snare, a hi-hat, and *maybe* one crash cymbal. He's assembled a bare-boned kit with a fat, low-end sound. And damn if he doesn't sound a heck of a lot like John Bonham, bashing away on the tom - even if it is with a marocca alongside the drumstick in his hand. You'll see what I mean:

Illinois @ Irving, 5/11/07

If this song is your introduction to Illinois, as it was mine, all the better. It totally captures the flavor of the band out of Bucks County, PA. It's a roots-rock tinged, twangy kind of indie hybrid that fits nicely with some of the revivalist tendencies of bands du moment, like the Kings of Leon and even Wolfmother. But in my mind, Illinois remains wholly individual. Maybe I'm just biased, cuz with this band, it was kind of love at first sighting. Not so, with the other two.

A private party like that first Illinois show made it easy for the bands that night to get in their comfort zones, surrounded by friends and insidery types. But their show at Irving was another story, altogether. They opened for The Kooks, whose sold-out tour had brought in truckloads of squealing young lasses and the boys who lust after them. This was prime exposure time -- a pretty big opportunity for the boys from Bucks County, and they knew it. And they acknowledged it, giving shout-outs to The Kooks throughout the evening, setting all the girls screaming again. Don't for a minute think Illinois couldn't live up to it -- they had the entire joint screaming on their own.

Illinois @ Irving Plaza 5/10/07

I think it has something to do with frontman Chris Archibald's dry as moonshine sense of humor and kicked back attitude, which are infectious for an audience. Especially when he wails like a mountain man, or raps like a slacker suit having a bad day.

Illinois: Bad Day @ Irving, 5/11/07

Meanwhile, as a musician, he moves just as easily from guitar to keys, and then to banjo. In fact, I kinda like it best when he's playing the banjo, but that's just me. Looks to me like he's having the most fun when he's on keys. But you never know...

Illinois @ Irving Plaza 5/10/07

The best part about the multi-instrumentalist thing is that it keeps the music from getting same-y.

It's immediately clear there's no schtick here. These guys are just completely themselves. Every song has its own flavor, while remaining true to the band's overall signature sound. And every member is equally important. The bass, in Martin Hoeger's hands, is melodic, yet meaty. The dreamy leads are played by Andrew Lee, who seems pretty dreamy most of the time, himself.

Illinois at the Luna Lounge

They kicked ass, and I was pleased as all get-out when I ran into Chris on my way to the Merch booth, who kindly 'graphed my ticket stub. Heck, you're why I'm here, honey.

The Kooks

The Kooks @ Irving Plaza 5/10/07

The Kooks are a mighty fun band. I like to think of them as the love child of The Strokes and Block Party. That's a high-energy, jump-around, punkified garage rock with a British rake's sneer, a wink and a smile. And like their progenitors, I'd learn that night, they give an awfully good showing live.

The Kooks - Time Awaits @ Irving, 5/11/07

There's kind of a merry jokester element in Luke Pritchard's presentation. He knows he's catnip to the ladies, and he works it -- but without pandering, mind you. His Brighton accent just adds to the appeal of the strong pop hooks, disguised as a naughty nephew of Cliff Richards or some such. He's drawing on a long legacy in Britain of lanky lothario as mod playboy.

The Kooks @ Irving Plaza 5/10/07

Like any good flirt, he's fickle, too. In his first song, he's telling us his heart's a-flutter, saying to some sweetheart, "I'm just trying to love you... I fell in love on the seaside." And by night's end, he will have "chewed her up and spat her out." No wonder the place is wall-to-wall cute girls. The chicks dig it. And to The Kooks' credit, the guys dig it, too.

It's a punchy kind of sound that translates really well, live. The band were tight as a drum, and totally ready to take over America. Hell, they've already sold out the tour.

The Kooks - See The World @ Irving, 5/11/07

It's been a heady start, that's for sure. Their auspicious debut on US shores came at Austin's discovery-generating fest, SxSW. They next triumphed over Coachella's LA audience full of industry heavies, adding the West Coast to their growing list of conquests. Seriously -- the only photo pit I got turned away from during the whole fest was for The Kooks, apparently because "it was full." Very good sign.

The Kooks @ IrvingPlaza 5/10/07

To give NY ourfirst taste, they chose the perfect downtown venue in Irving Plaza. The Kooks filled every corner, showing Irving off in its very best light. Speaking of, Irving's normally horrid lighting was gorgeous for the Kooks, sometimes even highlighting the band from the front. (*gasp!* just imagine! we could see their faces!)

Following up with a club tour was wise, emphasizing their British streetness and maintaining their cred. I don't know about you, but I'd rather see these guys in a dark, cavernous space than a brightly lit, summer sunshiney outdoor stage. It just must sound better. Right?

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