Kaiser Chiefs have always been something of a contradiction for me. The combination of a pop image with political lyrics has never been completely convincing. Ricky Wilson's recent appearance as a coach on 'The Voice' is one of those sideways moves that could be sheer brilliance or credibility suicide. Described on their website as 'one of Britain's most cherished bands', some wondered why they were playing Gorilla rather than one of Manchester's bigger venues.

Gorilla has to be one of the most authentic venues in town. It looks like a club from another era, stripped down, no pretensions, underneath the arches of Oxford Road Station. The stage is small and trains rumble overhead. It's perfect in its own way. Was this a 'step down' for the band or a brilliant choice of venue for a band who need to redefine and reinvent themselves, restore their position with the fans as they bring out a new album? The audience certainly thought they'd got the golden ticket. It was sold out and packed solid. There were lads and their dads, couples who had probably done their courting to 'I Predict a Riot' and kids with the right tickets but the wrong ID in tears outside.

This is a band who have been around for ten years, won three Brits, filled arenas, and they have had to deal with being dropped by their first record label. They reinvented themselves as the Kaiser Chiefs as a response. They lost one of their founder members back in 2012 when drummer Nick Hodgson left. All this makes Ricky Wilson an interesting choice of coach for any aspiring singer on 'The Voice'. He's been there and got the t- shirt.

They came on stage to Edwin Starr's 'War' and a roar from the fans. Band and audience bonding from the first chords. 'Never Miss a Beat'. Fighting talk, no barriers or barricades. Their lyrics deal with recession, unemployment, disaffection and fighting back. "What did you do at school? Nothing!" Ricky Wilson grabs the raised hands, takes a photo from the stage with a fan's phone, ventures into the crowd and comes back on stage with someone's can of beer. There's no need to wind anything up. The crowd are with him all the way. He redefines stage presence and working the room. 'Angry Mob' is sung from the scaffolding balcony on the opposite side from the stage. He saves the crowd surfing until the end.

There's a fearlessness and a confidence in his connection with the audience. He's so good to watch as a lead singer that you could forget to notice the band. They are there behind him, keeping it all together, supporting him, letting him do what he does best as a frontman. New material mixes with old favourites. 'I Predict A Riot' and 'Ruby' don't get saved for the encore.
'Cannons', 'Coming Home', 'Ruffians on Parade'. There's still this sense of fighting talk in the lyrics. Music as an instrument of change. "We the people created equal." He swings the microphone lead over the scaffolding bars so that the audience take up the battle cry, singing along with him.
But he has another message. I have never heard an artist apologise to fans for getting too comfortable, taking them and success for granted. "We're back," "We've got our hunger back." Ricky Wilson certainly has a lean and hungry look nowadays and it suits him.

He talked about "coming home" and being back in the North. The reconnection was important to him, the band and the fans. It was a rededication, a statement of intent. Once they were a band who could predict a riot. Now they look like they can handle one. A packed small venue paid off. It was one of those rare times when band and audience are sharing the same space, with no barriers, in every sense. The combination of their confidence and experience and the intimate club setting created a night to remember. As the head doorman said to me, "They could fill an arena, but they are playing here!"

Their new single 'Coming Home' is out now, and the album 'Education, Education, Education and War' is out at the end of March. Produced by Ben H Allen, it was recorded in Atlanta, Georgia.


Photos by Melanie Smith
www.mudkissphotography.co.uk

















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