Martin Carr and What Future are first up tonight, playing to a remarkably sparse audience. It’s a bit of a stiff start, but band and crowd loosen up a few songs in, getting used to the thoughtful sophisti-britpop sound that hasn’t really been around for 20 years. There’s a wave of agreeing cheers to Carr’s sign-off – “love you all, fuck the Tories!” – before closing with Lazarus, a song from his prior band, The Boo Radleys.
This tour is the delayed 30th anniversary celebration of The Charlatans’ career, from their first album in 1990, and when Tim Burgess bounces onstage, brimming with the positivity he’s become known for, barrelling through Forever, there’s a strong sense that this is a band that’s weathered the storm much better than most from their era. Despite a few tragic line-up changes, they’ve maintained a solid core and haven’t succumbed to curmudgeonly bitterness, conspiracy nonsense or just plain obscurity.
They cast a wide net tonight, but sound equally comfortable on early Madchester jams like Weirdo and The Only One I Know as they do with songs made 25 years later like Different Days and Plastic Machinery (which is split by a recorded reading from Ian Rankin). One to Another, from the band’s high watermark Tellin’ Stories, is the first to really bring the crowd to life, though that doesn’t stop Burgess geeing them up at every opportunity.
The firm gaze of nostalgia is enhanced by the visuals, which consist largely of old footage of the band, often in dressing rooms or onstage in the ’90s, interspersed with the odd psychedelic pattern that plays like Gaspar Noé directing a Windows screensaver. This helps keep the show bobbing on atmosphere alone during the occasional lull, usually on newer songs (i.e. from the last decade) like So Oh and Trouble Understanding.
A brilliant trio of The Only One I Know, North Country Boy (with an amazing solo) and How High close the main set, with band and audience in perfect symbiosis thanks to Burgess’ open-hearted gratitude and clear love for what he’s doing. The encore doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but the finale, Sproston Green, which also closed their first album, is a lovely way to bring things full circle and remind anyone who needed it that we’re lucky to have a band like The Charlatans still going so strong after 30+ years.