It’s quite something to be able to stay together for over 16 years, string together a consistently good stretch of albums and build a fiercely loyal fanbase – it’s even more impressive when you consider the dramas that The Charlatans have had to face through their career. While contempories such as The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets imploded, Tim Burgess and company kept going to become the one true survivors of the Madchester era.
It came as no surprise to see the Octagon sold out for tonight, but most people appeared to still be at the bar for the support slot by The Feeling. The band have already attracted their fair share of critical bile for their unabashed love of ’70s soft rock, and championing of bands such as ELO and Supertramp.
There’s no denying that The Feeling are musically competent and seem almost incapable of writing a song without a catchy, radio-friendly chorus. Yet while they’re hard to dislike, they’re very hard to love as well. It’s music with no character whatsoever, the very dictionary definition of mediocre. Never Be Lonely has a tempo change halfway through the song which sounds like Queen, and compared to the rest of their set it comes close to dangerous experimentation.
Dan Gillespie, despite a rather ill-advised waistcoat, did possess some charm and presence and enjoyed wigging out during the various guitar solos, but his voice is rather anonymous. Songs such as I Want It Now and Rose washed over the audience without making any discernable impression, and it was only previous singles Sewn and Fill My Little World that saved the set from drowning in a sea of middle of the road sludge.
Although The Feeling certainly replicate the sound of their heroes Supertramp and ELO, they also bring to mind a slightly edgier version of a certain tweenie favourite boy band. In fact, they were probably best, if rather inarticulately, summed up by a punter in the queue for the gents at the break: “they were like fuckin’ McFly….McFly on…shit”.
After the mediocrity of The Feeling, it came as a blessed relief when the sirens and opening keyboard chords to NYC rang out around the Octagon and The Charlatans appeared to a rousing reception from the faithful. Although Simpatico is certainly one of their weaker albums, NYC is a strong track and it’s funk/rock hybrid kicked off the evening perfectly.
Burgess may be a bit more grizzled than the cherubic figure who sang The Only One I Know on Top Of The Pops all those years ago, but he’s still got the same stage persona off to a tee – he doesn’t interact with the audience very much and, to be honest, often looks rather bored and disinterested. When it comes to the stronger songs of the band’s career, such as Telling Stories and the glorious North Country Boy, that didn’t matter so much, but the more turgid moments from Simpatico became something of an ordeal.
The rotten reggae skank of City Of The Dead seemed to provoke a mass exodus for the bar while Road To Paradise and The Architect just sound unbelievably flat and lifeless. Thankfully, the band’s old material is well covered, with a terrific mid-section of Can’t Get Out Of Bed, Jesus Hairdo and One To Another fair raising the roof, especially the latter with its monstrous piano chords.
Although there wasn’t much played from two of the best Charlatans’ albums of recent years, Up At The Lake and Wonderland, this didn’t seem to bother the faithful and Sproston Green (with the stage bathed in a luminous green light) made for a fine closer. Yet after the disappointment of Simpatico, this gig just felt rather perfunctory, the act of a band going through the motions. The fans loved it of course, but the feeling that something was badly missing just couldn’t be shook off.