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"a deep faith in pessimism" - KENICKIE, live review, 1998

One of those reviews where I actually end up thinking - what gives me the right to say this shit? Me n my wife met at an Orlando/Kenickie gig in 97. I pushed in front of her at the bar and she thought 'What an idiot, I will marry him'. I have removed the shit sub-editing from this one so it's all my own fault.


KENICKIE: ELECTRIC BALLROOM, LONDON

Neil Kulkarni Melody Maker

    HEY, LITTLE rich girl, where did you go wrong? The 'Nick should never have moved to London. Left home, met all these glittery chuckleheads, built guest-lists longer than the A1. D'ya remember those first two astonishing singles? Those interviews where it was like finally finding a band as fast and as funny and as spot-on as your mates, a tribe, a gang, a strength in small numbers and a lone den?    What happened to Kenickie was that they discovered their ideas had a currency, and that was tragic, that was a slide into being just another noise. They found like minds and lost their own. Too many clones to please, not enough space to actually learn any more. They did Kenickie convincingly, stuck short of the dread fact there was nowhere to go, no surprises to be pulled, a legion of yes-munchkins keeping them from the kind of engagement with themselves and their drives that all pop needs to work its magic. Crucially, they lost a sense of solitude, a sense of honesty, and gained a fuzzy filter of media overthink that cheapened their precious balls and grace.



    So, the alienating qualities of tonight's gig are welcome, and if they come from a bitter retreat, it's a trauma that's saved them. Tonight isn't triumphant and that's a real triumph. They walk on and a cappella 'Come Out 2Nite', its harmonies ever perfect and there's a weird wonderful despondency to it, hanging in the silent spaces, an elegy for a gone time, a hymn for lapsed faith. I detect a strange sense of queasy isolation, a bedsitter post-party trace over the battlescars of all the good times.
    What Kenickie hit upon tonight with 'Run Me Over' and 'Lunch At Lassiter's' isn't rancour, but a deflation and concentration that's utterly beautiful: they ply and fizz up straight riffs with strange changes from major to minor, shifting on 'Sixties Bitch' between beats and finding themselves strung out in sudden despair, a constant pull between invigoration and numbness that animates each song with a drama and flow that's sublime.



    What makes 'Stay In The Sun' and 'Psychic Defence' so ravishing is their innate pop sense; if anything the 'Nick's melodic power has gotten deeper, hooks glided and leaned into by Montrose and Santiago like  Moore and Lynott, 'In Your Car' sounding defunct already, Johnny X stalking a circle on guitar. The standout for a crowd getting fidgety but slowly falling in love is 'Magnatron', a fabulous disco stomp with Marie taking centre-stage for a Pan's People-style boogie worthy of Air or Donna Summer. It's on 'The 411' that the audience stops searching for old flames and surrenders to Kenickie's new squeeze, the mosh going mad, while back in the bleachers it's all closed eyes and pure love. It's a tense, important moment, but it's finally a vindication that buoys them through the encore of 'Girl's Best Friend', which still stands up two years on, the most blissed B-side of 1998, and 'Come Out 2Nite' in palpable waves of relief. And you feel it.
   Cos  Kenickie's return isn't about something as small and obvious as "maturity". It's about a deep faith in pessimism, a healthy accentuation of the negative and a need to make music that matches the poignancy with a richer, more ravishing seam of pop abstraction that never stops being immediate, complex and convincing.
   Love Kenickie, not too hard to be the kiss of death, but hard enough to keep them this vital, this reaching, this out on a limb and damn blessed.

© Neil Kulkarni, 1998

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