We The Kings – Kings Arms January 31, 2018

We The Kings put on a slick, endearing show, but one that tasted to me of empty calories.

These American pop-rock heart-throbs were apparently a big deal for a while, with a slew of Top 40 hits back in the late 2000s. Breakout single Check Yes Juliet (Run Baby Run) was especially huge, it seems, though I confess that song and the band themselves managed to elude my notice entirely.

2007 Cameron was convinced that Tool and The Mars Volta were just about the only modern rock worth listening to (yeah, I was that guy), so the King’s Arms last night wasn’t what I would call my comfort zone. Still, We The Kings can’t fairly be accused of being yesteryear’s one hit wonder, considering they are still releasing albums and enough of a drawcard to bring in a decent crowd of excited fans.

Arriving in time to catch second local opening act Written By Wolves, I can’t say my night got off to a good start. These guys describe themselves as “Cinematic Rock,” a style apparently intended to mimic the epic impact of Hans Zimmer soundtracks. The only thing it inspired in me was puzzlement as to how a band could lift directly from such a variety of sources and still sound completely predictable.

Then again, a McDonalds burger has half a dozen ingredients, but tastes exactly the same each time. So too the mix of electronic beats, power chords, poppy hooks and rock star shrieks all became an aural mush with no nutritional value. Written By Wolves, especially frontman Michael Murphy, can’t be faulted for panache. They already perform as if they are playing the rock stadiums their music seems designed for. But to me the swagger felt empty, especially when Murphy was exhorting the crowd to sing along to anthemic choruses clearly only a handful of them knew.

The crowd seemed generally lukewarm, in fact, halfheartedly clapping and jumping only when instructed, as if reluctant to be complicit in the posturing on stage. Not to worry, Written By Wolves came prepared with pre-recorded crowd choruses to back themselves up, which to me summed up the weird phantom hype their performance exuded. These guys clearly want to be big, which is fine, but they also seem to adopt a “fake it til you make it” approach, at the expense of treating the crowd with any true sense of intimacy.

For all the commercial sheen of their music, intimacy and warmth was something We The Kings managed to bring to the stage. Playing a spoken word intro before launching into Check Yes Juliet to rapt cheers, the band only shut up to actually play the songs from that point on.

Though lead singer Travis Clark got a bit rambly- introducing songs with some seriously long anecdotes, bantering with the crowd and fiddling with mic stands- the humility and good humour he and his band mates displayed to their fans endeared me to them hugely. The one exception was Clark’s introduction to young love ballad Secret Valentine. Using his young daughter as a premise for a “re-contextualising” of the topic of a young couple losing their virginity, Clark embarked on a drawn out series of innuendos about “playing Tetris” that got cringier and cringier.

It’s true the oblique sex jokes would baffle a six year old, but the level of humour wasn’t much removed from the schoolyard. Given that Clark himself framed the topic that way, I couldn’t help but wonder what his future 14 year old daughter might make of her father making crude jokes about accidental anal penetration or premature ejaculation. Better to have left the schmaltzy but inoffensive lyrics to speak for themselves, really.

As for the music, it was performed professionally and with charisma. In particular Clark’s voice was holding up very well, standing almost on its own during the more stripped back material. Overall though, this was never going to be one that blew me away. These poppy songs were a bit like candy floss: sweet and even kinda neat when you watch it being constructed, but the more you chew on it the less substantial it becomes. We The Kings can write a hook all right, but after a full gig were sounding very samey.

Of course, if you try to chew on candy floss like a steak it’s really you who’s the idiot. My lack of enjoyment was more or less predictable due to my personal tastes, but I couldn’t begrudge the band or their fans the great time they were clearly having. No-one was there to analyse the songwriting intricacies, they were there to sing along and have a party. We The Kings gave that to their fans in spades, and the fans belted every word back to them and jumped about happily. Against the lack of musical depth, that authentic exuberance went a long way to redeeming the show for me.

Cameron Miller

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