In 2012, Kaiser Chiefs singer Ricky Wilson bought himself a house on the Cornish coast, preparing for retirement. Accountants had once told him not to expect the band’s success to last longer than four years – and it already had. Drummer Nick Hodgson – who had written all their hits – was leaving the band and their last album with him, The Future Is Medieval, was their lowest charting to date.
Fast forward just over seven years and that house is on the market; the Kaisers’ latest, Duck, has become their sixth Top Five album and the Leeds band have become an enduring and entertaining arena staple. In between, they have proved that they can write perfectly decent songs without Hodgson. Meanwhile, and perhaps more crucially, a stint as a judge on TV talent contest The Voice transformed the frontman from chubby, scruffy indie kid to sharply dressed, gym-toned, immaculately coiffured household name and mainstream entertainer.
This is the Wilson who bounds on, all blow-dried barnet, thrown shapes and colour-coordinated double denim. With a hint of an American accent during opener People Know How to Love One Another – an anthem for Brexit Britain that carefully avoids splitting their market by taking sides – the Yorkshireman is a very watchable fusion of indie rocker, Elvis impersonator and Blackpool entertainment compere.
The 42-year old introduces “the world-famous international pop phenomenon the Kaiser Chiefs”, reappears on a platform in the middle of the crowd yelling “We are back in town” and divides the crowd into sections yelling “Kaiser” and “Chiefs” respectively. He carries off Freddie Mercury’s old “day-oh” call-and-response routine with aplomb, although it’s wearying by the fourth time. There’s even a fairground-style “hook-a-duck” competition, during which a fan called Karen is hauled up to fish for a plastic bird to choose what they play next – 2007’s Thank You Very Much.
It’s a solidly choreographed arena show as all-round entertainment, with steam jets, stage sets, streamers and confetti cannons, and the Kaisers have very much become a mainstream band. Seven songs from Duck – a third of the setlist – are traditional but sharp pop constructions with hooks and catchy choruses that play safely but well in large arenas. The breezy Northern Holiday absurdly but endearingly rhymes “sandwiches” with “foreign languages”. The infectiously chugging Target Market is a slightly more oddball tale of attempted wooing using Powerpoint presentations. The keyboard-heavy Parachute eschews indie entirely for machine-polished, albeit slightly shouty, modern pop. There’s nothing resembling a ballad, although 2014’s Coming Home, a U2/James-type anthem, triggers seas of swaying hands.
Things up a gear for Ruby, Everyday I Love You Less and Less, Oh My God and the other Blur-ry, Buzzcocks-y hits that so revitalised indie in the mid-2000s, by which time the audience is bellowing along with every number and eating from Wilson’s outstretched hand. He removes his jacket before I Predict A Riot wittily, perfectly condenses the late-night carnage in our city centres (“I tried to get my taxi, a man in a tracksuit attacked me”) into a timelessly chanted chorus and audience pandemonium. The Angry Mob – a prescient tale of a nation fuelled by tabloid fury – carries more wallop now than when it was written. More such heft wouldn’t go amiss, but with many of their old contemporaries long gone, it’s hard not to marvel at the Chiefs’ ability to shapeshift and survive.