On the fourth song into their set in the Main Room at First Avenue last night, Tom Chapman, lead singer of Battle, East Sussex’s Keane, realized he was going to have a personally transformative evening. It was during the devastating and tender track from their 2004 debut, Hopes and Fears, entitled “We Might As Well Be Strangers.” I saw him look out into the audience during the peak of the song and his face visibly changed.
The mystique that is the club First Avenue wrote its fire in the sky long ago, even before Purple Rain. It used to be a cool place to hang out even when it was a Greyhound Bus Station back in the 1930s, with its art deco vibe, air conditioning and floor checked terrazzo (which is still there today and serves as foundation of the pit). In 1970, the club opened with a two set performance by Joe Cocker and his Mad Dog Englishmen. Fitting, really, that a Brit Rocker should christen what was to become the musical mecca of the Midwest.
Over the years and as seen by the many stars painted on the exterior of the building, god-like geniuses from rock mythology have played the Main Room and the glorified closet known as 7th Street Entry, located in the same building. Clearly, the weight of this history overwhelmed Chapman, keyboard player Tim Rice Oxley, drummer Richard Hughes and bass player Jesse Quin. But they didn’t fail under the weight of it all. Instead, they rose to the occasion played a 21 song set that heated up the hearts of the 1500 strong audience in from the below-zero temperatures outside.
After each song, I turned to my show companion, Todd (an Essex man, born and bred for musical mythology just like me) and found that his jaw was nearer to the floor than mine. We were bearing witness to yet another legendary performance at First Avenue being born. It was a shovel to the head stunning show with Chapman’s choir boy voice at the center of it all. Keane prides itself on being flawless during performances and last night was no exception. They were greatly aided by the addition of a new sound system (and a wider pit area…so long, spirally staircase with forbidden step!) and the magnificent crowd that became immediately connected to the band early in the evening.
It was this synergy that created something quite magical last night and the emotion was evident on Tom’s face, growing stronger with each song. The set list was a nice collection of their now 10 year history. Highlights for me were “My Shadow,” “She Has No Time,” and, of course, “Bedshaped,” one of the top ten most romantic songs of all time. Their new album, Strangeland, is a return to the feel of their debut and contains many fantastic songs, the title track being one of my favorites. The first cut on the record, “You Are Young,” is a wonderful testament from parent to child and has now become the show opener. I recommend picking up the deluxe edition as it has four extra tracks.
With each song, I gazed around and looked at the denizens of the Ave and saw it all wash over and comfort them. Lovers snuggled, arms were raised, several thousand photos were taken and every word was sung by a chorus. Before the traditional show closer, “Crystal Ball,” Tom let his feelings on the evening be known. He was humbled by the connection that was made between band, venue and audience. He struggled to find the words to describe the nature of the relationship between music and Minneapolis and it was in this moment that I realized how deeply honest he was being.
Words don’t come easily when the power of the heart and soul drives the light that is within all of us.