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MUSIC REVIEW

Exuberant Keane mixes old with new

Keane
At: Axis, Saturday

Keane nearly became a rock 'n' roll cliché last year. After putting out a massively successful debut album, 2004's ``Hopes and Fears ," the British band was swept into the fast lane and promptly began to disintegrate. They held it together, just barely, and the trio's implosion is documented on Keane's new album, ``Under the Iron Sea ."

So when singer Tom Chaplin opened Keane's show at Axis on Saturday belting the chorus of ``Put It Behind You " not to the audience but sideways, while lunging at his childhood friend and keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley , it was clear catharsis was on the bill.

``This is a song Tim wrote because I'd begun to become an [expletive]," said Chaplin before the pair locked gazes for ``Hamburg Song ," an intimate ballad. ``Thank you, Tim."

And so it went at Keane's exceptionally emotional and exuberant show, performed at a tiny nightclub ostensibly to reconnect with fans (the band's last Boston show was at a slightly larger venue, the Garden, opening for U2) and introduce the new material (a moot point as everyone knew all the words already). What this sweaty set really seemed designed to do was transport the boys in the band back in time, perhaps in a last-ditch effort to remind Chaplin, Rice-Oxley, and drummer Richard Hughes what they're doing here at all.

``Under the Iron Sea," released last week, reprises the first album's majestic melodies and swooning hooks but without the buoyancy. The songs have stiffer spines and darker hearts. Armed with a gratifying new edge, Keane pushed through the interpersonal turmoil into the political arena with ``Is It Any Wonder ? ," a whooshing, propulsive critique of the British government that evokes early Radiohead, and ``A Bad Dream " -- the imagined musings of a warplane pilot seared with fuzz guitar from Rice-Oxley's bank of keyboards.

When Keane trotted out the favorites, the tunes indeed seemed reminiscent of a more innocent time. ``Bend and Break ," ``Everybody's Changing ," even broken-hearted ``We Might As Well Be Strangers " and certainly the sweet, swaying anthem ``Somewhere Only We Know " -- crooned by several hundred beatifically smiling fans -- came off like camp singalongs.

Indeed, the crowd had been exhorted again and again to sing their hearts out. That's Keane's stock-in-trade -- now plied with a little more gravitas. With strong sales likely to catapult ``Under the Iron Sea" into the Billboard Top Ten its first week of release, expect to see an ocean of smiling faces when Keane returns to Boston in September.

Joan Anderman can be reached at anderman@globe.com.

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