2022 Gig Reports

Kula Shaker at Alexandra Palace Theatre, Friday, 8th of July 2022

It was July 2022, the first day of a small heat wave, and time to venture back to Alexandra Palace for a gig. I’ve previously complained about mow much I disliked the venue when I saw Suede there in 2021, but the prospect of seeing Kula Shaker – one of the greatest live bands I’ve ever seen – was enough to entice me back again.

I began to somewhat regret my decision before I even got to the venue however, as I had my fair share of strife just getting there this night. All the relevant trains from Highbury & Islington were cancelled, and though I managed to get to Wood Green station on the tube, I wandered around cluelessly for an embarrassing amount of time before finding the right stop to catch a bus up the hill to the Palace.

Upon arriving I took a few seconds to admire the stunning view over London before confidently striding in the direction I remembered going to find the entrance when I Suede there last November. It turned out this was the wrong direction, as a helpful staff member at one of the bars informed me, and I strode even more purposefully in the other direction to finally get into the venue.

Even so, it wasn’t until I had been inside for a few moments that it fully dawned on me that this was a completely different room than the one I’d seen Suede in last autumn – a smaller theatre rather than the huge atmosphere-draining atrium of that previous gig. To find myself in this appropriately church-like space, when I was expecting the all the ambience of an aircraft hangar, was a delightful surprise.

Kula Shaker’s recently released sixth album “1st Congregational Church of Eternal Love and Free Hugs” follows the format of an eccentric religious service, and the theme was echoed in the gig. Looming over the stage was a large circular structure which lit up like a stained glass window while a prim woman’s voice told us the service would begin in five minutes. Then, there was a kaleidoscopic vision of colours accompanying the rollicking opening of “Hey Dude”. I didn’t catch sight of the band walking on stage, but I heard the screams, and it was clear from the start that the band were on incredible form, probably the best I’ve seen them since the Kentish Town Forum gig in 1999.

The sheer joy and positivity of their tunes gripped me from the first note, and I could not stop smiling throughout the entire night. After “Hey Dude” I found myself crossing my fingers that they would replicate the setlist of their last gig and play my personal favourite Kula song “Sound of Drums” next. The boys answered my prayers, and you know, it’s not often a gig sails into pure euphoria at the second song. Then “Infinite Sun” saw silhouettes of eagles up on the big screen, providing a moment of concentrated contemplation before a batch of new songs came our way.

And this is the magical key that made this gig so special: their latest album is easily up there with their best, the new songs standing up fierce and true against classics from “K” and “Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts”. Even more important is the fact that these songs are infused with a fighting spirit, seething with righteous anger at the tyranny of recent times, the erosion of freedom and liberty, and yet without any sense of despair, but a true confidence that evil will fall and love will win. Which just might make them, to me at least, the most important band in the world today.

So tunes like “I’m Against It” and “Hometown” were overflowing with the same rock mastery as anything from “K”, with a touch more wisdom maybe, and a touch less youthful bravado. “Love In Separation” was a rare moment where the pain of change and uncertainty was expressed without the hopeful positivity that imbues other recent songs, and it was sheer engulfing beauty. We had a “tra la la la la la la la la” singalong in “Farewell Beautiful Dreamer”, and the graceful pledge that is “The Once and Future King”.

The “K” songs like “Grateful When You’re Dead” and “303” were of course, utter monsters. Strangely, “Tattva” felt slight and shimmery next to them,, but still an utter delight. And the final song of the main set “Hush” was a pure force, the need to leap and dance and holler “na na na na na na na na na!” so utterly compelling, the room erupting in unbridled glee.

In the encore there was another “K” stormer “Knight On The Town”, and of course, the utterly triumphant, glorious “Govinda”. But there were a few surprising omissions to the setlist. In particular I was surprised not to hear “After the Fall Parts 2 and 3” from the new album, as every listen had me more and more convinced how epic that song would be live. “Great Hosannah” was also glaringly absent, and normally its omission would be a disappointment, but how could I be disappointed after a gig like this?

Back in my review of my first ever Kula Shaker gig at the 100 Club in 1999, I referred to Crispian as ‘the magical key’ to the glory of the band, and this holds true to this day. For a music fan, there are few experiences that can match the sheer joy of watching a frontman like him, with his effortless rock mastery, still at the peak of his game after all these years. I left this show feeling a sense of positivity, a feeling that I could carry their light with me throughout the rest of the year, whatever chaos and turmoil it may throw at me.

And I left with Kula Shaker elevated to a higher place in my personal pantheon of favourite bands than ever before, only a whisper below my all time faves like the Manics. I was desperate to see them again soon, and I had tickets to see them both in December and January, but sadly, the chaos and turmoil of life had other plans for me. So I’m still waiting for the time when my next chance to join their congregation arises, but I will always be grateful that they infused their fighting spirit of truth, love and positivity into a difficult year in my life.

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