Kaiser Chiefs present a show to be savored at Arts Festival


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Along with making their Pittsburgh debut Tuesday night, Kaiser Chiefs provided us a quintessential Three Rivers Arts Festival moment.

It started with Ricky Wilson, a frontman with no shortage of plucky personality, saying mid-set, “The smell of the popcorn over there .... It’s in-tox-icating.”

A few songs later, he had his own big bag of the festival’s signature kettle corn (passed up from a fan), which he munched on briefly while singing “The Angry Mob,” a song about media mind control.

It was an odd sight, but one that captured the offbeat nature of the event — a British post-punk revival band with a political bent playing a family festival in the park to popcorn-eating fans on a Tuesday night.

“You believe we’ve been going like 10 years as a band, and we’ve never been here before?” the singer said.

The Chiefs were a hot commodity between 2005 and 2007 when they released a pairs of albums, “Employment” and “Yours Truly, Angry Mob,” that rekindled the Brit-punk energy of The Clash and The Jam. Since then, the excitement in the States has waned a bit, but the band still thrives in England where Wilson is a judge on the British version of “The Voice.”

You could tell he was hired for his wit.

“When you’re in a band you’re notoriously stupid,” he said at one point, “so they put the name of the city on the monitors, so I don’t say the wrong thing. But I don’t need it, ’cause it says Pittsburgh real big right there on that building,” he noted, pointing at the Post-Gazette building.

He was also intrigued by Mount Washington (“I’d love to live on that hill”), the bridges (“Are all the bridges in Pittsburgh yellow?”) and the TRAF artist with the penguin and grim reaper paintings (he wanted one, but they were “a bit overpriced for my pocketbook”). When a female fan announced it was her birthday, he immediately jumped down off the stage to offer a kiss.

Opening with the jittery rocker “Everyday I Love You Less and Less,” the veteran five-piece band played a tight, high-energy set, despite working out a new drummer in Vijay Mistry. Andrew White drove the songs with stabbing guitar chords, angular riffs and a few well-placed fiery solos.

Although the new album, “Education, Education, Education & War,” has garnered mixed reviews, songs like “Ruffians on Parade,” working-class anthem “Factory Gates,” and military protest cry “Cannons” were more raw live and held up against such older favorites as the Buzzcocks-flavored “Everything is Average Nowadays” and “Never Miss a Beat.”

After raging through the first half-dozen songs, Wilson encountered some hoarseness, but rebounded later to finish strong with the still-fun signature anthem “I Predict a Riot,” poppy breakup song “Ruby,” and that kettle corn moment.

When the crowd demanded more after epic show-stopper “Oh My God,” the band returned a little stumped. “Honestly we don’t know what to play,” the singer said. “Anyone out there who has seen us... is there anything we didn’t play?”

The solution was a song from the first album they hadn’t played in 18 months. As it turned out, there’s no reason why “Na Na Na Na Naa,” a pounding rocker a la early XTC, shouldn’t finish the set every night.

SET LIST

  • Everyday I Love You Less and Less
  • Ruffians on Parade
  • Everything is Average Nowadays
  • Never Miss a Beat
  • Little Shocks
  • The Factory Gates
  • Coming Home
  • You Can Have it All
  • Modern Way
  • Misery Company
  • I Predict a Riot
  • Ruby
  • Cannons
  • The Angry Mob
  • Oh My God
  • Encore:
  • Na Na Na Na Naaa

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg

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