Having been around since the early 2000s, no one would blame Kaiser Chiefs for losing their enthusiasm by now, but the experience has actually turned the five-piece into seasoned performers who certainly know how to gee up a crowd. The only problem is, now there’s no crowd. Never did the Kaiser Chiefs think that one of their most nerve-wracking performances would be in front of an empty theatre.
Typically a 5,000 capacity venue, Brixton’s o2 Academy has been abandoned for the last eight months, so it’s no wonder it feels rather eerie when you get a peek inside. Kaiser Chiefs had the place to themselves when they played here on Saturday night, accompanied only by 6 cameras and a whole host of people cheering them on from home.
The show begins with a skit playing on the big screens, placing the band members in a dreaded yet timely scenario: a Zoom call. Reminiscing about the good old days before their tour was cut short earlier this year, all five of the Kaiser Chiefs are easily persuaded to get the band back together, and with no further questions asked they emerge onto the stage. If only plans were made that easy in reality.
The bands best gimmick of the night has to be the blue shack they entered through, stolen from their latest album cover and placed in the stalls so that frontman Ricky Wilson can stand on top of it and perform. With their name in lights proudly hung from the ceiling too, Kaiser Chiefs are taking the opportunity to express creative freedom at a time when the confines of a regular stage aren’t a hindrance.
Viewers are given the chance to explore this extended set for themselves, should they choose to utilise Melody VR’s impressive six camera angles, or to sit back and let the Director’s Cut do the work for them. When choosing the House Cam during the show opener ‘People Know How To Love One Another’, viewers are greeted by Wilson in their faces, singing into the camera with direct eye contact. Whilst he teeters dangerously close to the edge of the roof, the other band members remain firmly on the ground, where we are given an insight into each individual musician’s role like never before with the close proximity of the cameras.
Bleeding subtly into the second track, ‘Golden Oldies’, it’s no surprise that Kaiser Chiefs are keen to play some recent material from their seventh album ‘Duck’, with Wilson in particular looking very happy to do so. Lively despite being the only person in the venue dancing, he heads down to join his bandmates before telling the audience “We are the Kaiser Chiefs and we will not let you down.” This is a sentiment the group carries throughout the show, a sincere promise repeated several times that really feels genuine. The frontman also says he’s keen to get viewers at home up off their sofas (and beanbags, bizarrely), clearly hoping they’ll have as much energy as him.
The tempo is kept high in the next run of songs, as Wilson throws his mic stand in the air, jumps on top of the drumkit, and plays up to the cameras with expressive performances. Understandably, he reaches somewhat of a lull during ‘Parachute’, having worn himself out by overcompensating for a lack of physical audience. The Wombats style indie-pop track, more likely to appeal to those who know Wilson from his stint on The Voice, isn’t the highlight of the show, especially since there is no crowd noise to mask the more breathy, tired vocals. The singer soon bounces back after a change of pace though, thanks to ‘Target Market’, the closest thing to a ballad we’ll see.
Unable to continue the tradition of bringing a fan on stage to ‘hook a duck’ and determine the back-catalogue song the Kaiser Chiefs will play, they take matters into their own hands by having Wilson climb on top of the shack and cast his fishing rod from there. The stunt risks going horribly wrong as he ends up hanging off the edge of the hut whilst trying to untangle his fishing rod, but Wilson’s thoughts are focused on what song he’ll pick, saying: “As long as it’s nothing from album four, I’ll be OK”. As luck would have it, he ends up choosing ‘Cannons’ from the band’s fifth album ‘Education, Education, Education and War’, a result that goes down rather well.
Getting into the meaty part of the show with the first energetic run of hits, this is where the band really find their mojo. In line with the anthemic atmosphere of ‘Coming Home’, guitarist Andrew White steals the spotlight when it comes to his powerful guitar solo that we are able to witness up close, one he has previously described as making him feel like “Bryan Adams riding a flaming dragon”.
An aspect that perhaps doesn’t translate quite so well to VR is the desire for audience participation that no one reaps the benefits of. Wilson’s occasional shout of “sing-along” is probably no more than a habit at this point, but holding the mic to the camera during ‘Everyday I Love You Less and Less’ and waiting for a response may be a step too far- the awkward silence feels less rock n’ roll and more Dora the Explorer. Being encouraged to shout the lyrics louder and louder in your own home seems a bit ridiculous, but nonetheless, Kaiser chiefs should be commended for trying to make the show an interactive experience.
Their biggest hit, ‘Ruby’ sparks visible enjoyment from all members, and it’s clear that the band have the most fun with fan favourites. Breezing through ‘Modern Way’ and ‘Don’t Just Stand There, Do Something’, the Kaiser Chiefs hit a home run once again when they play ‘Never Miss a Beat’, ‘I Predict a Riot’ and ‘The Angry Mob’ to close out the main show. “Now I can see you’re off your sofas!” shouts Wilson smugly, revelling in the string of brit-rock bangers that he knows can get the crowd going. In moments like these, you can see that the band aren’t treating this show any differently to a typical one, despite a lack of instant gratification and encouragement. Sections such as the verses of ‘Never Miss a Beat’ were undoubtedly made for a call and response scenario, but Kaiser Chiefs don’t let these strange circumstances deter their energy. It’s a real shame that ‘The Angry Mob’ relies on the five members in this instance to do the job that thousands of fans would usually do, chanting back the lyrics to the outro passionately and relentlessly.
The show ends abruptly when the Kaiser Chiefs leave the stage without a goodbye and the lights go down, but we’re not left in suspense for too long, as another video message fills the awkward silence. This time the band are sat backstage, chilling post-performance when they think they hear the faint noise of “the people at home asking for an encore”. That’s all the prompting they need, and before you know it Kaiser Chiefs are back on stage for three more songs. The groovy ‘Record Collection’ and euphoric ‘Hole In My Soul’ aren’t necessarily the sort of fan favourites you’d expect in the lead up to a grand finale, but they do brighten up the stage with art-pop visuals and give the band one final burst of energy.
Before the show’s closer ‘Oh My God’, Wilson thanks fans for tuning in and promises to see them next year. As the guitarist, drummer, keyboardist, and bassist go crazy to finish the song, the singer lets off all the handheld confetti cannons he can get his hands on, bringing to show to a satisfying ending despite even if it’s an extravaganza only witnessed through a screen. As the band take a bow and leave the stage, a faint applause from about five people (presumably the production crew) can be heard in the background. This somewhat comical conclusion by no means reflects the amount of hard work Kaiser Chiefs have just put, into what they’d hope is a much larger crowd online.
Whilst it’s difficult to know what to expect from virtual gigs, Kaiser Chiefs have set the bar high, visibly giving their all to put on an event as close to the real thing as possible. It may not compare to the good old days that the five-piece were looking back on initially, but it provides a slice of reality and is inevitably an unmissable event for any Kaiser Chiefs appreciator.