After a cursory listen to Keane's debut, "Hopes and Fears," it takes a mighty effort to shrug off comparisons to Coldplay. Both bands are British, both peddle piano-driven pop, and both feature a lead singer who slips into falsetto like Frankie Valli on a good night in Vegas.
But upon closer review, that's where the similarities stop, as the band proved Wednesday night at the Paradise with a set of sparkly pop gems. Keane's album has been out in the United States for a mere month, but already the lads from Sussex have amassed a curious mix of fans. There was the baseball-cap crowd mingling with the hipsters in white belts; then there were the three teenage girls huddled in the back. One of them swooned over lead singer Tom Chaplin after his hearty "hello."
"Oh, he's going to speak in an accent," she squealed, "and it's going to be so cute!" Giggles ensued.
For Keane's Boston premiere, the band opened with "Can't Stop Now," and immediately Chaplin's frenetic stage presence seemed to surprise the crowd, which probably expected a more muted demeanor to match some of the music's lovesick themes. Chaplin was a magnetic showman, exuding the rock-star swagger of David Lee Roth (stage jumps and all). He hoisted the microphone stand, dropped to his knees to hit high notes, and his right hand frenetically played air drum.
Chaplin's bandmates were in on the theatrics, too. Piano man Tim Rice-Oxley lifted his leg a good 6 inches off the floor as he flung his head of long, black hair, and drummer Richard Hughes bobbled his head like a doll suction-cupped to a dashboard.
Keane didn't come close to selling out the Paradise, but the crowd couldn't have been more appreciative. Chaplin cheekily dedicated "Your Eyes Open" to "those in America who own our record." That seemed to include several people in the audience, who mouthed the words to songs such as "Somewhere Only We Know," the band's first single. Chaplin made "Everybody's Changing" -- a jangly pop song that laments "everybody's changing, and I don't feel the same" -- sound like the next monster hit on alternative radio.
Through it all, Chaplin's voice was the linchpin. On the band's album, Chaplin conquers savory heights; he makes his agile singing sound easy. He scored the same success live. Essentially, Chaplin's voice is perfect to power a thousand arena-rock songs, but he makes it work with nuanced phrasing and notes that trail off to a coo. He explained that Rice-Oxley wrote "She Has No Time" to console Chaplin after a heartache, then he sang in a falsetto that nearly broke the audience's heart. Chaplin solved the mystery of what Chet Baker would have sounded like if crossed with Jimmy Somerville. Answer: amazing.