Outside the Ogden, I spotted the first signs of trouble, although I didn’t identify it at the time. A lot of the crowd milling around looked subtly out of place – not what I have come to associate as a concert crowd.
Now, don’t get me wrong -- I certainly don’t think you have to be a certain type of person, or sport a certain look, to enjoy music. Nor do I think that I can only enjoy music with fans who look like me, or my friends. Hell, if I did, with my mop of overgrown hair and untrimmed beard, I’d probably be following Widespread Panic around the country in a van, and I fucking hate Widespread Panic. But there’s something about a crowd that seemed suspiciously sparse on the mid-twentysomething types that live and die by music that set off my spider sense – a premonition that turned out to be spot on.
The openers, Morning Benders, were actually kind of promising. They played a breezy, rambling brand of poppy rock that took a lot of cues from the super sounds of the ‘60s we all know and love. They tempered that with some pretty familiar indie rock stylings, and sealed the whole thing with a solid, often danceable, backbeat. Sounding at times like a less self-consciously clever and considerably heavier – although by no means actually heavy – Vampire Weekend, they piqued my interest enough that I’d certainly see them again, given the opportunity.
In the interminably long break between bands I had a chance to observe the crowd, and my earlier vague sense of the crowd demographic was solidified. There were a lot of black X-ed youngsters, mostly crowded down front. There were a lot of older (for a concert) people, people that didn’t look like they went to a lot of concerts. I spotted one group of total frat-bro dudes that appeared to be trying to pass as hipsters. But nowhere did I see the types of die-hard I-go-to-dozens-of-shows-a-week types I’ve come to recognize at nearly every show I go to. I realized it looked like a crowd made up of people that, frankly, just didn’t get that into music. The kind of crowd that loves shit like Coldplay but finds bands like TV on the Radio to be “too weird.” The kind of crowd that eats up shitty approximations of dusty rock clichés that were old before the poseurs perpetrating them were even born. But I'm getting ahead of myself…
The Kooks took the stage to considerable fanfare and applause. Their sound was a bland pastiche of familiar sounds and influences, barely hip enough to convince the uneducated masses that they were edgy, far too predictable to be of much actual interest. You know, just the kind of thing you’d expect from a band “kooky” enough to call themselves the Kooks.
The tunes were pieced together from scraps of better songs from better bands. A little bit of U2, a brush with the Police, some Rolling Stones, maybe some Elvis Costello -- though that last one may be giving them too much credit. The lyrics were banal. The riffs were mostly borrowed, and frankly put to far better use by the original owners. The solos were solid, workmanlike and utterly devoid of passion. They aimed at rock, but rock can’t be that calculated and still be any good.
The highlight came about a third of the way through, in the form of a two song section that shed the overly pretentious chugging rock for bouncy, peppy pop that worked far better within the confines of their too-deliberate approach to music. Those songs, which were clearly well-known and well-loved by many around me, approximated the Kinks influence I’d heard mentioned. They weren’t amazing, but they worked, which is more than I can say for the rest of the set. They quickly returned to the former leaden rock playacting. After an hour or so of this, the band said goodnight and left the stage, only to immediately be replaced by guitar techs.
Guys, we all know that leaving the stage and then returning “spontaneously” for an encore is part of the standard rock concert lexicon, but fuck, why even pretend if you have techs on stage tuning your instruments after the supposed end of the show? But strangely, it fit, considering the plodding, heavily choreographed feeling of the entire night. It would be more appealing to say “We’re going to wait five minutes, then play three more songs. Thanks!” It also would have been the most interesting and original thing they did all night.
-- Cory Casciato
Critics Notebook Personal Bias: Lest you think I'm a stuck-up twenty-something pissed that I didn't see more of my kind, I'm not. I haven't been twenty-anything for some time. Random Detail: I'm pretty sure someone was smoking shwag weed, which seemed strangely appropriate. Why smoke shwag when Colorado has some of the best weed nationwide? The same reason you'd like a band like the Kooks when there's so much better out there. By the Way: The Morning Benders are apparently playing Monolith, so I'll get a chance to see if I like them as well or better the second time around. As far as I know, the Kooks are thankfully not.