Bands often struggle to function as uplifting, cohesive units after a short while – and this is without even factoring in the strange tragedies that have befallen The Charlatans over the decades. The death of two of their members, the multitude of different music scenes that have all come and gone since their debut album in 1990, the hedonistic sex, drugs and rock n’ roll aspect that endears the bands of the 90s to us notwithstanding, The Charlatans continue to provide boisterous performances – and this evening, at Rock City Nottingham, it was mainly because of their charismatic, energetic man-child of a frontman, Tim Burgess.
I expected the crowd to be full of middle aged men in their Fred Perry polos, resurrecting what little spirit they can of the Britpop heyday of the mid 90s. I wasn’t entirely wrong, however there was the odd smattering of youngsters, people like me who grew up loving the scene and the bands involved in it.
“The rhythm of the song was catchy enough that people caught on fast”
Pint in hand, the crowd roared their approval when Burgess sauntered on stage, bleached bowl cut hair looking impeccably messy as always. The set opened with ‘Not Forgotten’, the song from their newest album Different Days (the studio recording of this song has Johnny Marr on guitar and Anton Newcombe on the organ). Whereas the crowd was not initially very responsive to the lyrics, the rhythm of the song was catchy enough that people caught on fast. The very next song had them going way back to 1995 with ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’. The rest of the set held on to this pattern of springing new songs amidst the sea of old hits that the crowd knew every word to.
Unsurprisingly, it was during ‘One to Another’ that the crowd first went completely ballistic, young and old alike. Even if you have never listened to a single record by The Charlatans, you are aware of this song thanks to a myriad of pop culture references (one that immediately comes to mind is the brilliant My Mad Fat Diary). It only got better from here, with the crowd proving that they weren’t merely there for nostalgic throwbacks. They knew every word from the next two songs from the new album – Different Days and Plastic Machinery.
Burgess teased the crowd to raucous applause while introducing ‘Spinning Out’ with the statement “I heard Paul Weller was going to be here tonight, but no, he’s not here.” (Weller performs on Spinning Out in the new album.) The band introductions take place in the middle of the gig to enthusiastic cheering (the loudest cheers were reserved for guitarist Mark Collins); ex-The Verve drummer Peter Salisbury has resumed his role as the drummer for The Charlatans from the last album and tour.
“All it needed was a mosh pit to bring complete chaotic abandon.”
The atmosphere at Rock City reached peak level of excitement when the iconic keyboard intro to ‘The Only One I Know’ is played. At one point in the chorus, Burgess stopped singing only for the crowd to carry on without ever missing a beat. At this point in the gig, everyone was enthusiastically traversing down memory lane going backwards through the years. There was only one way to end the gig, as Burgess noted before breaking into the final song of the night, ‘Sproston Green’. The crowd had gone completely wild by this point – all it needed was a mosh pit to bring complete chaotic abandon.
The sea of cheerful, satisfied (and slightly drunk) faces at Rock City once the lights were on proved that The Charlatans started their tour off on a high. As I ambled off to Burger King to get myself some late-night indulgence, I overheard the raging debate between the three gentlemen queued up behind me. It did raise the question – who do people generally attend gigs for? The entire band, the charismatic frontman or the ambience of it all? I don’t think a consensus was reached tonight, but the debate is always open for further discussion.
“Here’s wishing The Charlatans good luck for the rest of their tour.”
There is a certain charm in attending a gig where the performers seem pleasantly surprised and bewildered at the love they receive from the crowd. This is true for The Charlatans, making them even more adored by the audience. Here’s wishing The Charlatans good luck for the rest of their tour.
PS – Despite repeated requests from someone in the crowd, Burgess refused to take his t-shirt off on stage. And if you think I’m being pointlessly dramatic about this, I can assure you that whoever this person was happened to be very insistent about it, so much so that Burgess addressed the topic a few times in the gig. No, I am not joking.
Image credits: Anusmita Ray