Review: The Charlatans live at Bristol O2 Academy

The Charlatans

Remember Tim Burgess?

He’s had a quiet few years so you’d be forgiven for presuming he’d gone into early retirement, living a hermit life in his new found digs over in sleepy Norfolk, ruminating about the days gone by.

We jest, of course. Last year was a busy one for Burgess (solo album, EP and the biggest project of all; Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties), but in 2021 he’s really been making up for lost time.

The Twitter Listening Party empire shows no signs of slowing down, last year’s solo material has already been toured, he’s involved in numerous books, he continues to curate his Tim Peaks Stage at Kendal Calling, and The Charlatans have released a career spanning box-set: A Head Full Of Ideas. The Busiest Man In Rock is even doing tram announcements on the Transport for Greater Manchester service this week (seriously).

Hearteningly, it seems that nothing distracts from the day job. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of British rock is aware of The Charlatans’ history (and tragedies), but this most durable of bands just keep going and, like all the other lifers, it’s clear from the looks on their faces that they do it because they love it.

Often during the set founding member Martin Blunt looks over at Tony Rogers on Hammond organ and smiles gleefully, or catches guitarist Mark Collins’ eye knowingly. Some of the songs have been played a thousand times but there is no going through the motions as they do what they do best, with a minimum of fuss.

Rather than kick things off with a bang, the rest of the band take to the stage and subtly lead into the slow, drawn out, off-piste psychedelic march of Forever before Tim Burgess joins his colleagues at the exact moment he’s required to supply vocals.

Although billed as a Greatest Hits tour (as their video montage backdrop asserts, highlighting their entire career) which covers most eras in their 31-career, there’s a special emphasis on 1999’s honky-tonk rocker Us And Us Only, with three tracks performed, two of which weren’t singles – the snarling, swaggering, Sticky Fingers-ish Sleepy Little Sunshine Boy and The Blind Swagger lower the tempo but keep the gig interesting.

But other than that, it’s hits all the way (barring perennial set-closer Sproston Green). Their genre-hopping doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but then nor are they decried as a ‘lads’ band’ (in fairness, reflected in the middle-aged Dad crowd in attendance) and instead occupy the middle-ground, being respected if not revered.

Yet their canon is wide-reaching, be it the big country-rock of Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over or the groovy, dubby bass of Weirdo, which tries valiantly to grab the attention from its instantly recognisable, car-starting motif.

Then betrays their earlier, dancier roots (highlighting what a vital cog Rob Collins was) while the watertight and disciplined You’re So Pretty – We’re So Pretty brings the funk. The set ebbs and flows well, as the elegant wooziness of A Man Needs To Be Told (with intense drum and bass outro) follows on well from the mighty One To Another, the gargantuan riff still sounding massive 25 years on.

A trio of tracks from their most recent album, 2017’s excellent Plastic Machinery, (Different Days and the title-track, both with arms-aloft choruses sandwich the spoken-word Future Tense) cleanse the palette before a run of big hitters to end the main set.

The Only One I Know jiggles and lifts like a song half its age, the word-count-helping I Never Want An Easy Life If Me And He Were Ever To Get There rocks aggressively before North Country Boy outdoes it, and the set culminates in the brief blizzard of noise that is How High.

If the main set is for the fans then the encore is a bit more self-involved. The hugely underrated Blackened Blue Eyes, driven by its house piano riff, is excellent while Trouble Understanding isn’t an obvious choice but fits the flow of the gig before mandatory closer Sproston Green.

It’s one of those gigs after which you ruminate on what wasn’t played (the title-track from Tellin’ Stories is always a highlight, as is Love Is The Key, and a place for 2008’s This Is The End would have been nice), but few in attendance could have complained.

The crowd of middle-aged punters are in stark contrast to Burgess, whose whole demeanour (voice, looks) hasn’t aged (apart from the self-chosen striking blonde hair) in 30 years. Indeed, he even makes himself look younger by never being off his phone for the entire gig (although his Partridge-esque thrusting does balance things out).

Perhaps not the best example a man of his stature should be setting, but he’s earned the right to be indulged.

Richard Bowes
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