After eight years of breaking through borders with the familiarly melodic tunes of Hopes and Fears, the second day of October 2012 was finally set as Keane’s first visit in Manila for their Strangeland tour. Since the release of Strangeland last March, the British quartet has been on an extensive, nonstop tour across the globe to promote their new album. While the country-hopping could surely be exhausting, the four of them showed absolutely no sign of it as they powerfully enthralled Manila with an overwhelming set of 26 songs that lasted for almost two hours. The SM Mall of Asia Arena became the venue that thousands of Strangers (how Keane fans are called) and casual music enthusiasts would remember as a night of great, pure music. Indeed, every person on that arena can tell you with every ounce of truth that experiencing Keane’s music live was worth every year, every second of waiting.
Taking the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea as the main inspiration for the set’s design, the stage showcased the bare outline of the historical building’s modernist architecture, even borrowing the circular sign that occasionally glowed in neon the namesake of the tour: Strangeland. Just a few miles away from their hometown, the quaint and cozy surroundings of Bexhill-on-Sea was the band’s retreat as teenagers who were figuring out just what their lives should be. Except for being a central force in the development of the new album, the Pavilion also became the momentous venue of the first ever Strangeland gigs that had sold out within five minutes of its announcement.
For a moment, the spotlights at the back of the stage flashed. Tom Chaplin’s voice softly sang out, “Fearful child, have faith in brighter days”. “You Are Young”, the first song in their latest album, echoed out, instantaneously breaking the arena’s calm. In a heartbeat, everyone was in a daze, singing and shrieking along loudly as Tom melodiously sang. Just like that, Tim Rice-Oxley took his place in by the keyboards, Jesse Quin took the bass and Richard Hughes started thumping out on the drums. Keane needed no elaborate introductions as they began to take the stage.
The lively and relatively upbeat tunes of “Bend and Break”, “Day Will Come”, “Nothing in My Way” and “Spiralling” followed. Most of the crowd, very much familiar with the songs, resonated with such intensity and devotion, even synching with the high-pitched oooooohhh’s of the hit from Perfect Symmetry, “Spiralling”.
A few minutes before their concert, Richard Hughes tweeted twice about some particular surprises in their set list, stating “We’re practicing a song we last played full electric in 2005” and another one about an acoustic song from UTIS (Under the Iron Sea). In the middle of the set, Keane unleashed “Snowed Under”, the song which gave Hopes and Fears its iconic title. The other one referred to Tom’s acoustic rendition “Your Eyes Open”. Another unexpected performance was “Stop for a Minute” which was originally a collaboration with rapper K’naan. However, the biggest surprise for everyone was the jam-packed set list of 26 songs, which rarely happens in any concert. The band even confirmed via Twitter that it had been their longest set, so far. The Keane classics “This Is the Last Time”, “Everybody’s Changing”, “Somewhere Only We Know”, “Is It Any Wonder?” and “Bedshaped” turned the arena around and around. Even the songs from Strangeland such as “Silenced by the Night”, “Disconnected”, “On the Road” and the encore song “Sovereign Light Café” were received enthusiastically by the audience. Those little surprises, mashed up with an interesting array of songs from their four albums, swayed and amplified the crowd’s fascination, making it linger on a high note during the entire set.
What had initially appeared to be a minimalistic stage roared to life when the band started performing. The lights burned, flickered and burst rhythmically to every song, perfectly capturing the ambiance, the feel of Keane’s music (so to speak). There were the violent red hues of “Atlantic”, the pastel purple lights of “Silenced by the Night”, the turquoise and lime green of “The Starting Line”. Even more astonishing were the moments in the concert when the lights dimmed and a soft focus was given to Tom and Tim as they performed “We Might As Well Be Strangers”, “Try Again”, “Sea Fog” and “Strangeland”, the songs that contained that certain tinge of melancholy and estrangement. Undeniably, the play of lights drew the audience closer to Keane’s music.
The two-hour concert was greatly driven by the intensity and pureness of Keane’s sound live. Tom Chaplin’s characteristically ethereal, glass-like vocals never once faltered. To say that he could carry a tune would be a dire understatement. He made the tunes waver, bend and howl to the shape of every Keane song, all the while keeping an outstanding rapport with the audience.
This, in turn, was unequivocally matched by the musical prowess of Tim, Richard and Jesse who all inventively breezed through every song. The band members exhibited such flexibility with their ability to play instruments, occasionally handling different ones as they went along. Jesse played the bass and the keyboard at times. Tom was on electric guitar during “Lovers Are Losing” and on keyboard during “A Bad Dream”. Tim, the main composer, consistently balanced two keyboard/synths with noticeable skill and ease.
In between songs, the band took their time to scale the crowd, taking in the sound of applause, the roars and the hoots. Tom Chaplin, seemingly astounded by the crowd’s fanatical response, would take a few seconds to quietly look around and with his easy smile, blurt out one-liners to keep the crowd going. He wasn’t the kind to make inspirational or promotional speeches, but when he sang, the whole arena spun. The longest and most memorable statement he made during the evening was right before he performed “Your Eyes Open” acoustically. He stated, “We’ve been made to feel so welcome since we arrived here yesterday. What I love about being here is that everyone has such an incredibly positive attitude in life. And I can tell you, coming from England, that’s a really great thing to experience.”
In the span of their career, they have proven that they are all about the music, in keeping it honest and meaningful. They definitely proved that with the range of their musicality over the years. Keane is capable of translating into songs the subtle moments of nostalgia, estrangement, melancholia and joy with a certain refinement and sensibility that only they can deliver. Being able to experience that live was utterly a privilege for Keane fans and casual concert-goers alike. As Strangeland found its way in Manila, Keane definitely had their time here. Before the encore, Tom even remarked that being here made them feel special. Surely, with such a mindblowing concert, they made Manila feel the same.
Presented to you by Trilogy Live in cooperation with Dayly Entertainment
Written by Sandra Mae Laureano
Photos by Cen Sulit and Sandra Laureano