Those Crazy Kooks

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The Kooks, Stellastarr* and Illinois
Central Park, 9/10/08

In front of me stood young British rock stars The Kooks, and behind me was a pack of young screaming girls, held back by a weak metal barrier and little else. The photo pit at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield felt like no man's land on Wednesday. Rarely do I ever see a band with such a young enthusiastic crowd, enveloped with that aching desire to touch a member of the band. It never made much sense why fans want to do whatever it takes to get a piece of a sweaty rock star, but I guess it has to do with making a surreal dreamlike experience feel a little bit more real.

The Kooks are essentially a new British boy band. Their crowd is very young, and the girls go wild for them, especially singer Luke Pritchard. Basically, they're cute young British boys playing insanely catchy pop music. I am in no way comparing The Kooks to American boy bands like NKOTB and N'Sync. These kids are far more talented. The Brits always produce better boy bands, starting with the first one ever, The Beatles. Of course, unlike the American boy bands, bands like The Kooks weren't assembled as some crazy product to sell to unassuming teenage girls.

Despite being one of the biggest bands in England, with two of the top selling British records of the 21st century, they've still got a little ways to go before taking over America. Their set at Central Park was a good start. The best of their perfectly-crafted pop songs got heads bopping, and the closer Pritchard got to the crowd, the louder the screams became.

Their records have never had me entirely convinced, but live renditions of tunes like the Jam-influenced "Always Where I Need To Be" and acoustic "Jackie Big Tits" were incredibly infectious, and have been stuck in my head ever since.

Opening were Buck's County, PA-natives Illinois and Brooklyn's Stellastarr*. I've seen both bands many many times, and have always been impressed, but felt like neither was at top form on Wednesday. Illinois best moments came early with "Oh Asia" and "Screen Door," while the latter part of their set consisted of somewhat head-scratching new material. The band is obviously experimenting with their sound, which is great, but what they do best is that barn-storming banjo-filled rock.

After two records, Stellastarr* seemed to have disappeared for a while, and it's great to see them back. Their set opened with a brand new song, on which Shawn Christensen's vocals approach was noticeably different than in the past. The new songs played were a bit hit and miss, but past favorites like "In The Walls" and "My Coco" sounded great, as usual. Hopefully, we'll see a new album from the band in the near future.

Photos by [Jonny-Leather]

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