For me there aren’t many bands like the Charlatans. They are a band that keeps you hungry at the end of the show. Hungry for more. One never wants a Charlatans concert to end, but of course they have to. There can only be one thing for it – go and see them again!
I have witnessed the ‘Charlies’ on numerous occasions now. In fact, they are probably second in my obsessions to seeing Dylan live. There is, for me, nothing that can come remotely close to the experience of seeing the Charlatans. Promoting their new album, Simpatico, the band are looking to convince a few more people. One gets the impression that if they were based in the States and not on a small island that they would have some kind of mental following and that they would tour continuously à la Grateful Dead. Only substitute the ‘deadhead’ for a northern English bloke and the LSD for lager.
The gig is a late starter, for some reason the band have decided to kick off proceedings at 11.00pm. However, there seems to be no reason for this, the line-up is the same as other dates on the tour, there are no extra songs or special guests. The whole thing seems like a justification for the slightly more expensive London ticket. In many respects this has thrown the majority of the core fans. Many of them fearful of consuming too much lager have purposely restricted their alcohol intake. This is a shame as it feels as if the crowd should be more rowdy (in a good sense) than they are. But perhaps this is also due to the fact that they are touring in support of a recently released album and there are likely to be many Charlies-virgins in the crowd.
Opening to ‘NYC (There’s no need to Stop)’, the song, as I initially expected after hearing the record, works much better in the live context. Its disco beat and crazy lyrics work well, as does the “woo woo woo!” chorus/sing-a-long section. ‘For Your Entertainment’ slows things down but again startles due to the fact that it works so well live. The guitar riffs splice the song well and are enjoyable to witness in the live context and reinforce what a talented bunch of musicians the band really are.
But to be honest the majority of the crowd are here for the greatest hits. With a now long and illustrious career and numerous songs to choose from, the band are able to build are varied but never dull setlist. ‘Tellin’ Stories’, ‘North Country Boy’, ‘One to Another’, ‘The Only One I know’, and ‘How High’ are treated as old friends by the Charlies fans at the front. These songs are the bastard sons of classic R’n’B and the Madchester sound. The resultant offspring are rocking tunes that groove so much more than an Oasis song ever can. This is classic Charlatans music and experiencing these songs live is akin to riding a physical and emotional roller coaster.
More recent songs such as ‘You’re So Pretty, We’re So Pretty’ and ‘Feel the Pressure’ are now received as the classic songs that they always deserved to be. However, the beauty of these songs is as much in their placing on the setlist as their musicianship. ‘Impossible’ and ‘Jesus Hairdo’ although less famous than some of their other tunes, are also quasi-hits. It is only now, witnessing these songs live that one truly understands how great they really are, all those years after they were written. Other highlights included new songs ‘the Architect’, which is perhaps my favourite song from the album and ‘Blackened Blue Eyes’ which could stand up proud next to one of their classic tunes.
The encore was a joy to behold with ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’ briefly, so very briefly, becoming the perfect pop-rock song. The dancing piano and shout-along lyrics quite simply cannot be beaten. The band ended as always with ‘Sproston Green’. This song has become their epic, ten-minute plus anthem, their ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, their ’Like a Rolling Stone’. The slow guitar riffs repeat themselves as singer Tim Burgess wails on the harmonica. The song builds slowly until the whipcrack of the drums kicks in the song proper. Despite it’s length this is a song that one simply doesn’t want to end. The organ-guitar-bass works well together and the crowd respond eagerly with moshing and dancing while Tim Burgess eventually stands to the side of the stage almost in reverence to the musicians crafting the song in the centre. And all of a sudden the concert ends, the two hours or so are up and the crowd turn to leave feeling physically tired, emotionally drained and many will no doubt have that feeling in the bottom of their gut, that desire for more and they will have been converted to the Charlies cause.
On stage they produced a blistering two hours of music. Many will have experienced this set of music and wondered why they hadn’t seen the Charlatans earlier. The band are playing a range of musical styles as confidently as I have ever heard them. Tim Burgess’ vocals have also improved considerably since last time I witnessed them live in 2004. There seems little else more to say really. For some reason this band are almost conspiratorially overlooked when it comes to the music media and public attention. Do not be a sheep, go and experience the band live and then make up your mind. If they play only half as well as they did at Brixton tonight, I promise that you will not be disappointed.
NYC (There’s No Need To Stop)
For Your Entertainment
City Of The Dead
North Country Boy
You’re So Pretty, We’re So Pretty
One To Another
I’ll Sing A Hymn
Can’t Get Out Of Bed
Road To Paradise
Blackened Blue Eyes
Feel The Pressure
When The Lights Go Out In London
The Only One I Know
Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over