- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

A new lip-syncing scandal could have broken out Tuesday at Keane’s 9:30 Club performance. The British trio reproduced their debut album with such accuracy that it must have been Memorex, right?

Not these earnest rockers, a collision of Coldplay and the Cardigans who packed the club weeks in advance after just one major album release.

Funny, we hadn’t seen any “help wanted” signs for nonthreatening bands with a penchant for creamy anthems.

The sellout was impressive for beginners, but unfortunately rock fans don’t pay to hear note-perfect copies of their favorite albums. Keane dutifully reproduced 2004’s “Hopes and Fears” with only a piano and drum kit, the tools of their minimalist trade.

Spontaneity can’t be produced in a lab, nor in a concert hall if the band mates won’t veer from the formula. The trio should have taken a page from preceding act the Zutons, a five-man unit that treated their giddy set like a science experiment, winning converts with every discordant element.

The lush sound pouring out from Keane said all we needed to know about what happens when a rock outfit ditches the bass and guitar. It survives quite nicely, thanks.

However, before we urge youth the world over to ditch their axes for Casio keyboards, consider the benefits of the guitarist in a live setting.

Say what you will about the preciousness of onstage bonding, there’s still something electric about a lead singer and his or her guitarist sharing a microphone or cozying up to nail a song’s hook.

Male bonding was all but impossible for Keane, whose members stayed in their own zip codes for much of their precise set. Pianist Tim Rice-Oxley did all he could to muster some theatricality, flailing about as he pounded the keys on the bouncier numbers.

The paint-by-numbers performance wasn’t without saving graces. Lead singer Tom Chaplin, his regular Joe looks brightened by a rock star ‘do, bursts with buttery vocals that enhance his uncomplicated lyrics.

Keane didn’t sell out the club by alienating its audience. The crowd, a curious mix of college types and a bit-older folks, clearly identified with the self-described geeks. Must be all those “Woe is me” sentiments that threaten to weigh down “Hope’s” buoyant melodies.

Drummer Richard Hughes supplied the sonic architecture throughout the set, turning into an electronic beat box on a few numbers with impressive consistency.

“We Might as Well Be Strangers” hints at the band’s balladeering promise. It’s a complex assortment of standard-issue longing given heft by its maturing harmonies.

The album’s other standouts were given their due, particularly “Somewhere Only We Know,” as good a pop single as this era can muster.

Keane fleshed out the set with newer material that sounded indistinguishable from “Hope’s” lineup.

The band’s learning curve has just begun, both on disc and stage, but the professionalism they’ve demonstrated supplies grounds for hope.

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