Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Charlatans / Blossoms - Manchester Albert Hall - 6th March 2015

Enjoying a musical as well as a critical renaissance, The Charlatans are in the middle of a sold-out UK tour promoting their Modern Nature album. They're supported by Manchester's latest great hopes and Even The Stars favourites Blossoms.  We caught the second of what is as near to a hometown gig as they're going to get as The Albert Hall welcomed Tim Burgess and the rest of his band home.

Whilst so much of The Charlatans appeal is their wonderful back catalogue and those who know are excited by the possibilities of just how far Blossoms can go, tonight's gig was about two bands on different paths, but very much of the here and now.  The Charlatans have just delivered possibly the finest album of their quarter of a century existence whilst Blossoms' two singles to date and the other songs we've heard suggest the debut album of the year will have their name on it.

Having already opened for James, The Courteeners and Inspiral Carpets, Blossoms are no strangers to playing venues of this size, but it can be only a matter of time before they're doing it on their terms. Despite a muddy PA they go down a storm with The Charlatans crowd, those of us old enough to remember seeing hints of the headliners early shows in them, all floppy hair, strident organ sounds driving the sound, a charismatic front man and a knowing cool.

They start off with You Pulled A Gun On Me and people are singing along downstairs. Having spent so much time on the road this year, you can see how they've gelled as a band now and how the cramped confines of being a support band is seeing them burst at the seams. They've got more than enough songs now to vary the set without detracting from its quality and tonight's choice are not the more obvious. The Urge and Smoke are tinted with psychedelic hues that swirl round the rafters of the imposing Wesleyan chapel, but it's when they drop down to the acoustic strum of My Favourite Room and the joyful quintessentially English Blown Rose that they reveal more strings to their collective bow.  They conclude with their two singles to date and the now full room fall for the charms of Cut Me And I'll Bleed and set-closer Blow and its extended outro.

After a great set of Manchester classics from Clint Boon, The Charlatans, minus Tim, take to the stage and strike up the intro to 1999's Us And Us Only album's lead track Forever. It doesn't feel fifteen years old such is the timeless nature of The Charlatans set tonight. Those early classics such as The Only One I Know, Weirdo and their standard epic closer Sproston Green stand alongside the majesty of this year's Modern Nature renaissance album which they're not shy at packing the set full of with eight tracks coming from it, and quite rightly so.

And in between they touch most of their catalogue in between as well. They play the crowd-pleasers from the self-titled album and Tellin' Stories such as Just Like You're Thinking Things Over, One To Another, Crashin' In, North Country Boy and How High and they get the rapturous response you'd expect. But songs like You're So Pretty, We're So Pretty, Oh Vanity and Blackened Blue Eyes from the commercially darker years are no less warmly received, a sign of the love between audience and band, the bond that Burgess's infectious personality and the love of an underdog battling and winning against the odds generates.

Of the new songs, forthcoming single Let The Good Times Be Never Ending is stretched out and made to feel like it's a statement being made to and by each and every person in the building whilst the joyful declaration of love that is Come Home Baby concludes the main set and doesn't feel out of place or incapable of holding the weight of what's around it. The consistently high standard of the record means that there's no lull in the set when they drop a couple in together. The Charlatans crowd are an intelligent, knowing bunch with an unstinting loyalty to their band and the long wait for Modern Nature has been rewarded by what we consider to be one of their finest, if not their finest piece of work to date.  And when the opening bars of Sproston Green, which has been cemented at the end of their set for a quarter of a century now, strike up, the room is filled with smoke and white and yellow light, a couple of thousand of arms are raised aloft in unity and love.

Whilst none of the tragedy around the making of the record is referred to, when Tim clenches his fists, eyes closed, hair waving, towards each corner of the hall, you sense that is his outpouring of so much pent-up emotion and love and a sign to his brothers in arms. The Verve's Pete Salisbury is on drums and performs the difficult task of filling the departed Jon Brookes' shoes admirably. The rest of the band leave the communication with the audience to Tim, but they add a harder, rougher edge to the older tracks, whilst retaining the more subtle and emotional side of the new album in the live environment.

The Charlatans have led a roller-coaster of an existence, full of moments of real communion with their fanbase, but also scarred with tragedy that would finish other bands. Despite the recent loss of Jon, they're outwardly riding the crest of a wave, buoyed with the continued devotion they generate and delivering an album you'd never have thought possible and enhancing their reputation as an exciting live band that never fails to deliver. Let these good times be never ending.

The Charlatans played Forever, Weirdo, Talking In Tones, North Country Boy, So Oh, Tellin' Stories, Trouble Understanding, Let The Good Times Be Never Ending, You're So Pretty We're So Pretty, Crashin In, Oh Vanity, One To Another, Lot To Say, Emilie, Toothache, Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over, In The Tall Grass, How High, The Only One I Know and Come Home Baby with an encore of Blackened Blue Eyes and Sproston Green.

The Charlatans' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter. Tim Burgess is also on Twitter.

Blossoms' official website can be found here.  They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

Photos by Jo Dover

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