Kula Shaker @ University of Norwich, 5th December 2016
Kula Shaker are touring to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their classic album ‘K’, released in 1996. Whenever bands start to look back on their career there is always the worry that they have become curators of their own legacy rather than a creative force in their own right, and that was the worry I had walking into the same venue in Norwich where they had played twenty years before.
This is not to say that the band is now solely concerned with their past: in February they released ‘K 2.0’, very much in the same raga rock vein as their earlier album and intended as a companion piece. They say the new record came about by reflecting back on ‘K’, and on the progress they have made since, reimagining old songs from a more mature perspective. That was also what the band would need to do on stage, to justify touring a twenty-year-old album.
Looking at the faces in the packed room it seemed likely that many of the same fans that had been in attendance the last time, were here again. Not having experienced ‘K’ the first time around I didn’t share the same nostalgia of many in the room, meaning that for me the gig would have to stand on its own merits.
After an opening cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band charmingly repurposed as Kula Shaker’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, lead singer Crispian Mills put my initial concerns to rest, wryly wheeling a record player on stage and announcing that they were here to play ‘K’ in full. The band soon got on to the matter in hand and blitzed through the first few tracks, infecting the whole room with their youthful energy, albeit with the assuredness of a band that has been honing their craft for the past two decades. Mill’s virtuosity was in full evidence, toying with these familiar songs, not content to give the fans what they could get simply from listening the record.
Aside from playing through the album, the set list was peppered with offcuts and B-sides, with Under the Hammer – a song about the hardships of a young band struggling to get any gigs – being a particular highlight. New songs 33 Crows and Infinite more than stood up to the older material and it was very encouraging to see that they haven’t lost their touch for penning their particular brand of psych-pop tunes.
All members of the band were clearly enjoying themselves, the familiar songs providing a solid base for experimenting. Playing through the second side of the album, trading solos on 303 and Start All Over, they galvanized the positivity in the room for biggest hit Hush – anthemic and catchy this got the entire room chanting along, caught up in the moment.
By the encore I had been thoroughly convinced by a band that, far from looking backwards, wanted to propel their classic material into the present. Their willingness to experiment made the album feel less like a museum piece and more like an ongoing musical project, and as they left the stage, I was cheering just as loudly as the fans who had experienced Kula Shaker twenty years before.