Keane plays it earnest, safe and tidy at the Midland

01/21/2013 8:11 AM

05/16/2014 8:52 PM

In the eight years since Keane’s last trip to Kansas City, the four-piece from East Sussex, England, hasn’t strayed much from its songwriting formula: tight 3- to 4-minute pop ballads about love and growing up.

It’s a blueprint that has helped the band sell more than 10 million albums worldwide and land songs on shows like “Melrose Place” and “Grey’s Anatomy”.

Keane employs no guitars, using only keyboards, bass, and drums to produce a sonic background for frontman Tom Chaplin to sing over. The band’s piano-rock sound is similar to that of Coldplay, the multi-platinum British band that also once offered membership to Keane’s keyboardist, Tim Rice-Oxley.

The stage setup for Sunday night’s show at the Midland was sparse, just a backdrop and a neon sign with the title of the band’s latest album, “Strangeland,” which would illuminate when one of its songs was played.

The Midland’s balcony was roped off for this show, but the floor was filled with what seemed like a general mix of young professionals, parents, and teenagers — many of whom looked just as interested in watching the concert as using their phones.

Keane is a technically proficient band. Chaplin is an excellent vocalist who hits each falsetto note with precision. But the band would do itself some good to not let its proficiency get the better of itself in live performances. The songs are crafted for radio play and sound as well-groomed and tidy as each member’s appearance, which translated to a performance that could never quite reach those striking and transcendental moments that often make a concert memorable.

This was apparent during songs like “Everybody’s Changing” and the excellent “Sovereign Light Café,” tracks that seemed to be begging for the band to let loose just a bit more and give each song an extra, dynamic dimension.

That’s not to say they didn’t come close at times. About midway through the band’s 21 song set, its newest member, Jesse Quin, swapped his bass for an electric guitar for “Spiralling”, an energetic new-wave tune that would feel at home with the likes of New Order.

Keane would have benefited from more moments like that — surprises that strayed from the predictable and sometimes cliché earnestness found in its pop ballads Instead, the 90-minute slate of songs played it safe, and included the singles “Is it Any Wonder?” and “Somewhere Only We Know”.

Chaplin complimented Kansas City throughout the night, recounting the band’s two-day stay that involved eating at restaurants on 39th Street and taking in a local show in Westport on the previous night. Comments like these were uncontrived, spontaneous and sincere — a trait that would do the band well if extended to its musical performance.

Setlist: You Are Young; Bend and Break; On the Road; Strangers; Nothing in My Way; Silenced By the Night; Everybody’s Changing; She Has No Time; Neon River; Spiralling; A Bad Dream; Hamburg Song; My Shadow; Disconnected; Is it Any Wonder?; This is the Last Time; Somewhere Only We Know; Bedshaped; Sea Fog; Sovereign Light Café; Crystal Ball.

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