Corporate Festival!!! The phrase fills me with dread. The inaugural London iTunes Festival drew to a close last night. A month ago, the thoroughly irritating Mika opened the festival, and after thirty gigs and over sixty bands later, we’ve reached the finale. Over the course of July, London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (the ICA to you and I) has played host to acts as mega-famous as Paul McCartney and Amy Winehouse, as diverse as The Go! Team and Beverley Knight, and as new and exciting as Good Books and The Maccabees.
But as the MC for the evening is keen to remind the tiny audience (numbering no more than 350), the corporate sponsors have saved the best for last. Leicester’s all-conquering heroes (and Noel Gallagher’s favourite band), Kasabian played their first London show at this very venue back in March 2004, just as they were emerging into the indie-rock consciousness. And now they’re back, fresh from a stunning performance in front of a “slightly larger” crowd on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury just over a month ago.
That the show is being recorded for Channel 4 and being broadcast live on Xfm merely adds to the atmosphere and sense of anticipation amongst the lucky few who managed to win, beg, steal or borrow tickets for this very unique show. Rarely do gig-goers get the opportunity to see well-known bands in venues this tiny, and given Kasabian’s track record as a remarkable live band, the fans present tonight know that they are in for a real treat.
Emerging onstage to a Star Wars-esque piece of instrumental music, the band pick up their instruments, and crack straight into ‘Shoot The Runner’. It’s trademark Kasabian, with frontman Tom Meighan’s snarly vocals and cocksure swagger played off against Serge Pizzorno’s wailed vocals. A smiling Meighan informs us that “it’s great to be here, really intimate, really close” and without a moment for pause, we’re straight into that recognisable rhythmic intro for ‘Reason Is Treason’. Two songs in and the crowd are already dancing and writhing, chanting along with Meighan as he roars “see the stones coming at my window, see they left me no protection, tell his family that he won’t be OK, K-I-L-L.”
There’s no let up in the relentless pace as a dreamy, floaty ‘Sun/Rise/Light/Flies’ is followed swiftly by ‘Stay Away From The Brown Acid’, a B-side to ‘Shoot The Runner’. Meighan has been energetic, roaming around the stage, but at this point in the proceedings he disappears, for Serge Pizzorno to sing the most recent single, ‘Me Plus One’, a slower and more haunting track than anything the band have previously put together.
But Meighan re-emerges, to describe this show as being “in bed with Kasabian, under the blankets” and the tempo increases again, with a roaring version of ‘Empire’. Pretty much the entire population of the UK must have seen them perform this at some point during the summers of 2006 and 2007, and rightly so. It’s a monster of a rock song, and the crowd respond in kind, yelping out the chorus. “Stop! I said it’s happenin again, we’re all wasting away”. It sounds like 35,000 people in the room, rather than a mere 350.
From here on in, things can’t possibly go wrong – the band have this routine down to a fine art. ‘Processed Beats’ was the first many of us heard of Kasabian, but it still sounds fresh and innovative live. ‘The Last Trip’ is dedicated to support act The Dead 60s, and demonstrates the extent to which Kasabian have moved towards a more dance-driven style. It works a treat, sweaty bodies moving like their lives depend upon it. ‘The Doberman’ lives up to its name, a prowling animal of a tune, after the haunting intro as Pizzorno sings “silence in the yard, Doberman’s asleep, you never have to lay your head down here, watch them disappear”.
They close the set with a fantastic trio. First ‘Club Foot’, probably the heaviest track they’ve recorded to date. Tom barks out a series of noises whilst Serge rattles back with the memorable refrain “I tell you, I want you. I tell you, I need you.” No marks for lyric writing, but three years on, it’s still one of the best tunes they’ve done. Then ‘Stuntman’. On first listen to the album, it didn’t make much impact, but in the live setting, it all makes perfect sense. It’s soaring, they’re taking us on a trip to who knows where, but everyone seems happy to just follow and let them guide us. And then ‘ L.S.F’ to finish, another “classic” (if it’s acceptable to use that word to describe a song that is less than 4 years old).
No encore (so no ‘Cutt Off’, ‘Seek & Destroy’ or ‘Fast Fuse’), and a surprisingly early 10pm finish, but then what did we expect from a corporate event? Actually, fair play to the organisers, promoters and bands for keeping the corporate levels to a minimum – every ticket holder received a custom-numbered card entitling them to free iTunes downloads, but the corporate aspect wasn’t in our faces. Tom Meighan in particular seemed to play up to the cameras and radio coverage perhaps more than usual, but it all contributed to the sense that this was something special, not just a routine gig for the band, and they said as much before leaving the stage to a rapturous ovation.
Earlier, The Dead 60s had performed a short set, largely comprising tracks off their new album, although they did dig into the back catalogue to play a raucous version of ‘Riot Radio’. Unfortunately, the new material seems to suggest that they have sacrificed their ska roots in favour of a more “radio-friendly” sound, and we will await the new album with bated breath.
But the night belonged to Kasabian, and to the small number of lucky fans inside this wonderful venue. A memorable evening, one for the scrapbook.