So storied is the venue tonight that almost as much could be written about the building as the band playing within. Limelight has seen the likes of Oasis, Blur and more come through its doors. Tonight, however, belongs to The Kooks.
I arrive during soundcheck to see a small line stretching from the locked doors to the venue. Almost three hours early. A telling sign. We enter sometime later, greeted by the all too familiar violet pastel lights of Limelight 1. On stage, a variety of instruments with a drum kit behind. Across the skin, two words only: The Kooks. The last bastion of Brit Pop, indie colossi and the cult band to end all cult bands, The Kooks have amassed over 400 million Spotify hits and countless awards. Tonight, they bring their hits to Belfast.
Before them, however, The Silences take the stage. A fitting opener that kept us guessing, The Silences would jump from War On Drugs style expansive tracks, to slower style tunes, to rock-infused shredders. Despite their distinctly indie feel, there is an undeniable bop to their set, whether it be from the famished vocals, electrifying solos or chunky bass lines, which sounded distinctly like the hip-hop infused rock lines popularised in AM. Bursting with surprises and in full control of the pace, The Silences leave the stage to whoops and a round of applause.
I make the mistake of turning my back to the crowd in order to write some extra notes and finish my second beer. I return a few seconds later to see that the sizeable enough Silences crowd has grown into an extra 400 people. The venue is almost completely full in preparation for the main event. Ever the performers, they don’t keep us waiting too long.
The Kooks take to the stage with a swagger that begets a band of their stature. All confident strides and floppy hair dos, they ooze an aura that is both hypnotic and bold. Veterans of the circuit at this point, they maintain a stage presence before they begin playing their instruments. Which, after a brief banter with the audience, they proceed to do with fervor.
Far heavier than their hits would suggest, frontman Luke Prichard mans the acoustic guitar for the majority of the show, with frequent switches to a more unconventional instrument: the crowd. Pritchard works the congregation like a conductor, inciting ooo’s, aaa’s and chorus participation, often with only the flick of his wrist.
Eager to join in, the crowd responds with gusto to every inclination. The first big hit of the night “She Moves in her own way” is almost drowned out by screams, but still audible is the first few strums of a riff that soundtracked a generation. To see a crowd tune in to an anthem at this level is a neigh on spiritual experience.
It is with the end of “She moves…” that the first act of the show comes to a close. Cardinal Pritchard holds court as he poses the question – “everyone alright?” Needless to say, anyone not feeling alright may as well have kept their mouths shut amidst the howls that responded. The band share a quick laugh, revelling in the scene they have experienced time and time before, before launching into their next song.
The night progresses, with fan favourites such as “Seaside” and “You don’t love me” eliciting a sea of fist pumps and finger-pointing, while newer singles are sprinkled throughout. Head sways and hip swings abound, spurred on by the relentless energy and spicy playfulness of the Brighton four-piece. And almost as soon as it began it’s over.
The quartet quit the stage but quickly return for their encore. However, somethings missing. Pritchard claims that this is their last song, but there hasn’t been a peep from The Kooks greatest hit. Murmurs grow in the neon darkness. Surely not? Not indeed. The unmistakable twang invites a human eruption of approval. A truly religious experience, ‘Naive’ sits in the same tier as songs such as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Back in Black’, in both recognisability and cultural significance.
It belies hyperbole because it IS a hyperbole. The song itself barely needed to be played, as the crowd appeared to sing every lyric and every note of every instrument. An anthem that is both nostalgic and fresh to over 500 people at the same time, it brings to a close a show that could only have ended in one way: deafening applause. The Kooks came, saw and conquered. It was Naive to think they’d do otherwise.