In an era when commercial radio is as fragmented as plates at the conclusion of a Greek wedding, a band like Keane is a minor miracle. As evidenced by their Orpheum show last night, the British trio has the power to bring together disparate generations that generally can't even discuss the same genres of music, let alone listen to the same bands.
But there it was for all to see. A sold-out show with more than 2,500 Keane fans consisting of mothers with their grammar-school-age sons, 20-something daughters with 50-something fathers, and the requisite college students and smartly dressed young professionals. Were Keane able to bridge the race gap -- the audience was 90-something percent white -- they would be pop music's great unifiers. But the band still deserves credit for at least bridging the generation gap.
Keane's magic formula for reaching such a wide crowd goes something like: Write impossibly catchy pop songs that possess a timeless quality, give them kick with an aggressive piano player who rocks harder than any guitarist, and top the whole thing with cherub-faced lead singer who's voice captures more angst than a high-school drama club. Of all the much-ballyhooed bands that have arrived from Britain in recent years, it appears that what the masses were looking for was straight-ahead, dewy-eyed pop, and not another group that sounds like the Cure.
Opening with ''Can't Stop Now," lead singer Tom Chaplin gripped the mic stand and began an amazing evening of vocal calisthenics. It's no small feat that Chaplin is able to get through an entire show where he belts out numbers such as ''Bend and Break." He also had his subtle moments, such as the lovely ''Everybody's Changing." Remarkably he was able to carry off the full range with the same precision as on the band's debut, ''Hopes and Fears."
Chaplin and rangy piano player Tim Rice-Oxley appeared to fuel each other's musical passion. The more Chaplin restlessly prowled the stage in his hip huggers and white belt, the more Rice-Oxley resembled a Muppet on caffeine. Given that this is a trio with no guitarist, there was no one onstage to offer windmills and pogos. But Keane wisely used lighting and head bobbing to create the illusion of kinetic energy.
''Only last year we were playing in a much smaller venue in Boston," Chaplin told the crowd, brushing his mop out of his eyes. ''I could only have dreamed that we'd be playing in a place like this."
Openers Longwave and the Redwalls started the night with guitar-heavy alternative pop. The Redwalls, a band that barely looked out of high school in form-fitting mod suits, sounded like a combination of Elvis Costello and a pop-punk Buddy Holly. The quartet's set was a pleasant distraction, which, come to think of it, is exactly what good pop music should be.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.