Photo by Phil Knott
Slippery fish, this Leicester group. They’ve named themselves (in tribute?) after one of the infamous Manson Family, their sound is a mix of gritty riffs crashing into sampled beats and electro soundscapes with the hooks of a football terrace chant, topped off by tossed-off lyrics with plenty of neck and bravado. Hell, if everyone could do it, they would, because Kasabian have become millionaires at a time when this music lark is not exactly paying dividends to just anyone … and yet Kasabian have struggled here in the U.S., where the quartet are nowhere near as huge as they are in Britain, having had five No. 1 albums in succession.
One arrives early to the Wiltern for a coveted access-to-the-pit wristband, awarded first-come first-served to attendees. (A complete pain in the ass, but necessary to fully experience Kasabian, if previous concerts have been accurate representations.) The sold-out audience is as mixed a group as ever seen for a rock concert in Los Angeles: a few teens, but mostly those of many different racial stripes in their 20s, 30s, and 40s … even a few parents bringing their children–some wearing kid-sized Kasabian tour shirts.
On the road, Kasabian are a six-piece, with an extra guitarist and a man to trigger the sound effects so essential to their sound. But in many respects, Kasabian are not presented to the public as a band of equals: As with the Rolling Stones, vocalist Tom Meighan and guitarist Sergio Pizzorno have made it clear that the men operating the spotlights needn’t bother with the others on stage. Meighan plays the role of local-loudmouth-wins-lotto fairly well, but time appears to have both sobered and humbled him a bit. The lanky, hirsute Pizzorno–Keith Richards, if he’d been born with a sampler instead of the gnarled soul of an American bluesman–strips out guitar chords amid his angular knees and elbows, dancing in place and playing the role of “human riff” to the hilt in efforts to get the crowd going.
And it takes a while, to be honest. The early songs in the set are fine: including plenty from last two albums 48:13 and this year’s For Crying Out Loud. Despite fervent applause, “Il Ray (The King),” “eez-ah,” and “twentyfourseven” don’t quite hit the target. Then some magic is dropped on us all by a lesser deity who decided we all needed a bit more fun, and the show picks up rather grandly at the halfway mark: “Re-Wired” finds the audience finding their leaping legs for the first time, and “treat” and “Empire” continue to have the Wiltern dancing like it just doesn’t fucking care. Singing along to them, one realizes how bone-headed some of Kasabian’s choruses are: “Hit me harder! I’m getting re-wired! I flip the switch that make you feel electric!” is not going to make most lyricists tremble in their shoes. But Meighan, Pizzorno, and the mighty rhythm section of Chris Edwards and Ian Matthews sell it hard, for all their might. The final ten minutes of a Kasabian concert have often proved to be the best, and tonight is no exception: the one-two punch of ‘Vlad The Impaler” and “Fire” masterfully work the crowd into a startling lather.
After you strip away the Kasabian veneer, under all the headlines and the clothes and the haircuts and the fans stood outdoors in the rain in their thousands; the rumours of hampers full of both drugs and fashion models carted in from eastern Europe and awaiting the approval of their Satanic majesties backstage; under all that, the songs themselves are puny, defenseless things, staring back at you wide-eyed, armed with little else than an attitude and a helluva backbeat. And God help me … it’s only rock and roll, but I actually kinda like it. Yes I do.