Have you ever seen something advertising a band playing in your city, and thought, “I’d really like to see them, even though I only know one or two of their songs”? That was the extent of my relationship with Keane until recently. I’ve certainly heard several of their songs on the radio over the years, and especially love their biggest hit, “Somewhere Only We Know,” but until I found out I had access to check them out with opener Youngblood Hawke this weekend at San Francisco’s Warfield, I hadn’t actually sat down to give their tunes a thorough listen.When Youngblood Hawke took the stage, they were all energy, especially front man Sam Martin. They began their set with “Rootless,” after which Sam paused to greet the crowd, asking, “you guys know it’s Friday night, right?” Up next was a song called “Danny,” followed by “Blood,” “Come Looking,” and “Protect.” Taking a breather between songs, Sam explained that it was only the band’s second time playing San Francisco, which is understandable given that this particular assembly of band members has only been together as Youngblood Hawke since late 2011. After “Stars,” Sam said, “if you guys know this one, sing along. If not, I won’t be upset!” The song, “We Come Running,” is a deliciously catchy rockin’ pop tune – the kind that gets stuck in your head for days, but you don’t really mind because it’s a great song. Promising a few more songs for us, Sam said, “SF, you are sweethearts. There’s lots of love in this place! Are you having a good time?” As far as I could tell, the cheer that rose up in response was a clear yes. “Forever” came next, followed by “Glacier,” which ended in a drum-fest: everyone had a drumstick and was pounding away, creating a very memorable sound and sight. The best part: when they were done, they humbly reassembled on the stage to break down their own set. Maybe it’s the little things, but I love a great band who’s not afraid to get in and get their hands dirty. Expect to hear great things from this band soon!
When it was time for Keane’s set to begin, I could feel the anticipation in the air. This is definitely the kind of band that has a dedicated following, and after a week or more spent getting to know their newest album, Strangeland, I understand why. Albums like this are truly rare, as almost every fave record has at least one song we skip. This one, not so much. The band took to the stage with, well…I’d say “very little fanfare,” but I don’t mean that they didn’t receive any applause. What I mean is, they’re exceptionally humble and don’t come out to a big, splashy introduction. They merely walk on stage and get right down to business. “You Are Young” came first, and I must admit, I smiled at Tom’s accent when I heard him sing “baaaahhhhhsk” (bask), mostly because so many English bands don’t really sing with an accent. Right away it was apparent that the crowd loves this band: they were singing and clapping along in all the right places, something I really appreciate in a show, especially when I’m new to the group. “How’s everybody in San Fran tonight, alright?” Tom asked the crowd. “So good to see you!”
“Bend and Break” came next, followed by the wonderful “On the Road.” Even from my perch in the back of the room (where I’m often happy to avoid a crowd the first time I’m checking out a band), I still hastily typed “ADORABLE” in my notes. I’m a sucker for a cute Brit, and wow do these guys have that going for them in spades. But, I digress…back to the music! After “We Might as Well Be Strangers” began “Nothing in My Way,” which brought a cheer from the audience as soon as it began. During the next song (“The Lovers are Losing”), I noted “LOVE the lyrics. Heart this band!” Song after song was full of brilliant lyrics and gorgeous melodies, and Tom’s voice can carry all the talent of the band itself. I don’t ask for much more than that. “You okay so far, San Francisco?” He inquired, and of course was greeted with the obligatory but appreciate chorus of “wooo!”s. “Silenced By the Night” followed, which included another crowd sing-along. “How good do they sound, seriously?” Tom asked. “AMAZING.”
“Everybody’s Changing” was next, followed by “Neon River” and then “Spiralling.” Again, Tom paused to check in with everyone: “are you feeling alright out there? You seem very alright to me!” He went on to profess his love for the area, saying, “it’s such a great atmosphere, coming to this city,” and calling it a “perfect San Francisco welcome.” As the next song, “A Bad Dream” began, with strobe lights flashing for full effect, I laughed at my new friend The Vinyl District‘s Jason Miller, who insisted I quote that it was the “smoothest non-sexual groove” he’s ever heard in his life. Between songs, Tom again paused to chat with the crowd, explaining the fun they’ve had in getting from Boise, ID to the Bay Area, adding that they’d stopped in Tahoe. “It’s so beautiful!” He went on to call us “incredibly lucky” in California, what with nearby mountains, coast, and everything else in between. “Can’t Stop Now” was up next, acoustic and lovely, after which the full band (and the strobes) returned in full effect for “My Shadow.”
“Day Will Come” is such a damn catchy song, I can find no reason not to love it. It’s positively “infectious,” as the cliches like to go about such pop ditties. As he sang it, I took a few notes about Tom’s stage persona: the guy is a class act. He’s unbelievably comfortable, both on stage and in his skin. His talent appears effortless; he clearly enjoys himself, all while staying absolutely cool as a cucumber. Nice. When “Disconnected” began, Jason and his wife cried out in excited unison, dancing to it together as Jason told me it was the “best Keane song ever!” The alleged “last song” came next, as Tom asked anyone still seated to “get up!” for “Is it Any Wonder?” which is an easy fan favorite for it’s irresistible melody. As it closed, Tom bowed quickly, nodding with all the sincerity of true humility and appreciation. “This is the Last Time” was next, gorgeous with the piano, and more than once during “Somewhere Only We Know” (the only song, up till this point, that I knew all the words to) I got legitimate goosebumps: it’s just that good. I’m not a girl who’s overly romantic or mushy, it’s just the kind of song I can’t really resist: the lyrics are wistful and nostalgic without being cheesy, and the music is just right. Seriously, the song is nearly ten years old now, and I still crank it up every time I hear it! It’s everything I want in a great big pop-rock tune, and all I wanted it to be that night and more.
A shortened version of “Bedshaped,” rich with a beautiful falsetto, came next. As the crowd sang along, a huge smile crossed Tom’s face. It was clear he was enjoying the night as much as everyone else. The house lights came up as the song concluded and the band thanked the crowd. I’m convinced that they genuinely appreciate the fans, and it’s always nice to see. They left the stage for a moment, and returned with an encore that began with “Sea Fog,” another one that the piano really elevates. My notes say “better than the album, vocals insane” because Tom’s voice was fantastic. In my book, any time a band is as good as their record is a good time. If they prove themselves to sound even better live, I’ll likely be back again and again, as is the case from here on out with Keane. The energetic “Sovereign Light Cafe” was next, including another enthusiastic crowd clap-along part, closing with a shout out to their “fantastic support,” Youngblood Hawke. Tom mentioned their previous trip through the Bay, saying they had a “lovely time last year,” and adding that it was “lovely to come back.” After thanking the crowd yet again, the show closed with “Crystal Ball.”
After saying goodnight to Jason and his wife, I hurried out into the chilly downtown San Francisco air and cranked up two things immediately in my car: the heat, and Strangeland. It’s such a wonderful experience to hear a band you hoped you’d love live and come away more excited about them than ever. I already can’t wait to see them again!