Kenan Bell – Live

Hoxton Bar and Grill
London 19.11.08

I had heard a few tunes from Kenan Bell on his myspace page, heard they were doing a gig and thought – “yeah im up for that”. So I grabbed a sidekick and stepped to Hoxton Square to catch their live show. Unfortunately, I arrived early and saw a couple of ill thought out bands play, one was particularly shocking and left me looking at my watch thinking “hope I don’t miss the last tube” but I’m glad I stayed in the end.

Kenan Bell, to my surprise appeared onstage as a 6 piece band, drumkits, keyboards, guitars plus Kenan, the emcee. No messing around here, straight in to the set! The vibe was a tight mish-mash of influences. They are “band of the day” on the Guardian newspapers website, and “filed” him with KRS-1, A Tribe Called Quest and Mos Def , but to be honest, the comparison is as close to them as NY is to KB’s native LA. If they had given them a proper listen they would have heard influences closer to the The Pharcyde and MGMT with a firm nod to the essence of 80’s NewWave, but meh, that’s why your reading this on Crossfire, and not some broadsheet trying to be down with the kids!

The musical makeup here is very quick to change from a synth based sound to subtle guitar backed tracks. Lyrically I think Bell is a little depressed, well, disappointed I think is a better word, disappointed with society and covers this in Enjoy, cutting himself as the “loneliest crusader”. The slightly melancholy flow is perfect for a remix and they pull off The Smiths – This Night Has Opened My Eyes to great applause. If Morrissey was responsible for indie music in the 80s, his “I’m not happy, I’m not sad” mantra is something Kenan Bell firmly embodies on the imaginative Save your Life.

As the set speeds on its plain to see they are used to a larger crowd, but the stage presence starts to get looser and the band definitely had more fun with the crowd. The audience is now firmly theirs as they run through the tracks from their current EP. Geeking out with the sing/song structure of Celebrity and the open, honest Good Day shows perfectly his range of sound is as wide as the emotions they explore. The live show is studio tight, with plenty of adlib to keep the organic feel, the band starts to catch up with Kenan’s energy and raise the tempo a notch to finish off the night in rowdy style.

It’s definitely worth looking out for his EP and I am sure an album will follow in 2009 as this is too fresh to miss out on and certainly worth the two hours of night buses home! Get on it:

Philip Procter