O2 INSTITUTE, BIRMINGHAM | 06/10/16
It has been five long years since transatlantic duo THE KILLS released an album. 2011’s Blood Pressures was, at the time, seen as a departure for the band, moving away from their bare-bones roots and developing a more considered sound. This year’s Ash and Ice transfigured that massively; now they wanted to sound as massive as their indomitable stage presence would have you believe.
It is odd then, given the cult following of the band, that at no point does the main room of Birmingham’s O2 Institute ever seem heaving. Throughout the entire show, the horseshoe balcony of seats is empty, bar a couple, and there are gaps scattered in the stalls. Despite this, the first act drew a fair gathering once proceedings began. A reminder to all support bands: please state your name clearly. Winning your audience over is the hard bit, and if you have done so successfully at least make it easy for them to find you! That aside, the duo that turned out to be named GEORGIA – comprised of both Georgia herself and her bandmate Hinako – were a delight to behold. Starting with an introductory interjection of X-Ray Spex ‘Oh Bondage! Up Yours!’ and a wail, the pair quickly shifted and dove into a barrage of sound. Seamlessly flitting from electro grooves to bass-driven hip-hop, Georgia’s frenetic drumming (hers is quite a spectacle to behold) underpins their performance, her voice soaring surprisingly effortlessly given her movement.
The Kills take to the stage to an odd purgatory of expectation. The band – which have expanded to include two touring members – wait expectantly for a reaction from an unusually static audience, the crowd themselves seeming too timid to involve themselves with the overtly engaging shenanigans of Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart. Over the course of an hour and a half, the band tore through an 18 strong set (the encore itself was four songs long) that mixed up the best from Ash and Ice and pickings from their back catalogue.
It read like a greatest hits; newer songs like ‘Heart of a Dog’, ‘Hard Habit to Break’ and ‘Siberian Nights’ were right at home with fan favourites ‘U R A Fever’, ‘Kissy Kissy’ and ‘Baby Says’. Hince’s signature guitar style would not betray that he had a tendon transplant in his fret hand not that long ago. Any worries about his recovered ability were surely abated, with his riffing being the anchor in their songs. As has been remarked upon many a time in the past, the chemistry between Hince and Mosshart is truly unique. Every so often they will embrace or catch each other’s eye and silently agree that yes, they played that well, and it was pretty awesome.
And talking of Mosshart, she is a singular entity. There are moments – as she is prowling the stage like a caged animal – that she surveys the crowd with what appears to be pure vitriol. But then all of a sudden, she cracks a smile and you realise that you are in on the joke. There is no malice here, this is family, and what happened on stage is purely for the audience’s entertainment. And entertain they do.
It can be easy to forget, with her iconic, stylistic frontwoman status, that above everything else, she is a wonderful musician and performer. Whether she is playing the guitar or flailing like a whirling dervish, she attacks each song with full gusto, however, it is when she steps out into dimmed lights for a subdued solo stint in the encore (‘That Love’, ‘The Last Goodbye’) that her emotive and diverse voice truly captivates.
As the audience silently survey, it is easy to understand why The Kills persist in being one of the best bands of the past ten years. The mixed age of the crowd is proof that the music traverses any given fad, a blues-toned sound that is classic enough to be ageless yet malleable enough to keep them relevant, and somehow – in 2016 and over 15 years deep – The Kills feel fresher than ever.