Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Charlatans @ Academy, Birmingham

29 November 2006

As the nation reminds itself of Liam and Noel‘s former glories, sending Stop The Clocks flying up the charts, The Charlatans have taken their traditional position lurking in the shadows of their Manc counterparts. Forever: The Singles, their recent best of, stalled at a paltry number 38 and, combined with the apathetic response to 10th album Simpatico, could sadly spell the end for Tim Burgess’ gang. It’d be a crying shame, as tonight proves that these guys have a stack of great singles that most of today’s bands would give their deluxe hair straighteners for.

The last few Charlatans tours have pulled in an ever dwindling set of hardcore faithfuls, and few others. Tonight’s a different matter, though, and the prospect of a greatest hits set from one of the country’s best singles bands results in a packed house. For 90 minutes it’s as if the glory days never went away, and nothing else matters but hearing them tear through a breathless set list that reads like the soundtrack to a generation.

Tony Rogers strikes up the stirring hammond organ opening of the immense Forever, Martin Blunt’s bass rumbles and Tim swaggers on looking as boyish as he did in 1994, floppy fringe hanging over his eyes, to take his place centre stage. A much more energetic and versatile front man now than his static, Liam-esque ’90s incarnation, he strides and dances around, treating everyone to his newly perfected Mick Jagger strut. Eschewing the hundred yard stare and rock ‘n’ roll aloofness, he acknowledges the front rows, laughing and chatting with them – perhaps something he learnt off his new best mate Carl Barât.

Hit follows hit with breathtaking pace, with no room for filler or indeed, with the exception of regular set closer Sproston Green, any album tracks at all. It’s singles all the way, and probably the perfect Charlatans set list. Sure, they always dutifully wheel out the big guns, but this tour provides, for the first time, a chance to hear a condensed history, from debut Indian Rope to this year’s Blackened Blue Eyes, via bona fide classics One To Another, Weirdo and The Only One I Know. It is magnificent, and utterly thrilling.

The only low point is an ill-advised attempt at playing the pointless remix of You’re So Pretty, released earlier this month as a single. It doesn’t work, and it seems everyone would have just preferred to hear the funky original. That minor quibble aside, this was a faultless demonstration of the genuine importance of a band that’s been unfairly overlooked throughout their career. Spectacular is not a word you’d normally associate with underachieving baggy survivors, but if anyone turned up tonight expecting a perfunctory run-through of anthems past their sell-by date, they’d have been sorely mistaken.

Who knows what the future holds? They’ve weathered a fair few storms in their time, and only a fool would write them off, but now is the time to look back and realise that the last 17 years were pretty fucking good. No superstardom, no tabloid tales. Just great music.

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