What an opportunity this is for little old Halifax. Kasabian‘s last-minute decision to play an intimate show at the 1500-capacity Victoria Theatre may seem like a radical one but the 2014 Glastonbury headliners have always been generous when it comes to performing at smaller venues.
The gig is a warm-up opportunity prior to their Royal Albert Hall slot in support of the 2018 Teenage Cancer Trust a day later and fans have been queuing since the early hours in sub-zero temperatures to ensure a spot on the rail; these opportunities are few and far between in the smaller, provincial regions of the UK but tonight’s concert could be an indication that this former mill town’s cultural credentials are on the rise. The Guardian identified that ‘the town’s reputation as a mini music mecca has been growing for a while’ and this was reinforced when Father John Misty was confirmed to play his only non-London date at the town’s gorgeous Piece Hall later in the spring. Halifax still retains its rough-around-the-edges appeal though and knowing their fan base, this may have led to Kasabian making the decision to drop by.
The band’s entourage have effectively closed down the town centre with various trucks and exclusive coaches lining the main drag. Hundreds of fans endure the safety-first bag checks and body searches required before entry as support Spring King are playing, and football chants and friendly banter keep the well-oiled crowd entertained until they eventually get in to the small theatre. But once we’re set, all hell breaks loose!
The Halifax crowd are clearly over-excited; fights in the stalls erupt and security remove several of the key offenders before the band have even arrived. Eventually the 4-piece saunter onto the stage and they are greeted by rapturous cheers and applause before launching into the rarely-performed ‘Julie & the Moth Man’. The pounding ‘Ill Ray (The King)’ further fuels the stalls’ pogoing enthusiasm which does not dissipate for the next two hours as the Leicester lads rip through the best of their genre-bending material with barely a pause for breath. ‘bumblebeee’ follows, which sadly doesn’t make security’s job any easier as plastic pints are hurled into the masses below and the fans in the stalls are whipped up into a heaving, writhing mosh pit of unadulterated abandon.
The thing with a Kasabian setlist is that there is very rarely any let-up. True to form then, ‘Underdog’ arrives and it is a thrilling hand-grenade of kinetic power and this small theatre, more accustomed to cries of “He’s behind you!” during panto season, reverberates until you wonder if the 117-year old mortar holding its bricks together will begin to crumble.
As well as thrilling the excitable crowd with the expected hits and album highlights, the band use the evening to slip in a couple of unexpected tracks. ‘Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter From the Storm)’ is a mystical romp from the offbeat Velociraptor and the more recent ‘The Party Never Ends’ maintains the idiosyncratic middle section of this evening’s performance, but then again, the band have always dealt in the unexpected in such thrilling fashion.
The band are also accompanied by a brass trio which add significant texture and craft to familiar songs, but it is the thrill of iconic tracks like ‘Club Foot’ that the fans are really here for and the three-tier circle shifts in its foundations as the pulverising bass rips through the crowd. The label-defying union of ravey electronica and pounding Britrock of 48:13 has never really resonated personally, but it is impossible to deny the cinematic qualities of tracks like ‘treat’ in such intimate surroundings.
Although much of the focus and adulation is aimed at Tom Meighan and Sergio Pizzorno, it would be careless to forget that many of the musical thrills emanate from guitarist Tim Carter, who generates power and sublime precision, whilst bassist Chris Edwards’ contribution is relentlessly brutal. Spending time watching these ultimate professionals allows you to appreciate their role in generating the freedom for Tom and Serge to really express themselves. It’s an often used description, but Kasabian really are one of the tightest units out there and this ensures that a more chilled cover of ‘Praise You’ morphs imperceptibly into the pounding ‘L.S.F.’ and the crowd can barely contain their excitement.
The encore concludes with a predictably partisan version of ‘Fire’ and then the band are gone. There may be lessons for the venue to learn in terms of establishing rules that ensure that energetic exuberance doesn’t spill over into something more ugly, but on this experience, Halifax is well up for representing the UK as its less-refined musical mecca. As Hookworms synth player Matthew Benn puts it, in Halifax “you can’t get away with having stupid hair or dressing like a twat” and Kasabian’s performance this evening revelled in this unpretentious demonstration of Friday night abandonment.