Tragedy almost struck the band again this year when drummer Jon Brookes collapsed on stage due to a brain tumor.
Calling The Charlatans survivors has unfortunate connotations – notwithstanding the 1996 car crash death of original keyboardist Rob Collins – giving the impression of a band merely limping on for old time’s sake. They’re not just surviving but thriving, pushing their signature Hammond organ-flecked sound in interesting new directions.
Tragedy almost struck the band again this year when drummer Jon Brookes collapsed on stage due to a brain tumor. Thankfully, Brookes is on the mend with ex-The Verve drummer Peter Salisbury filling in for this tour. Richard Ashcroft’s mob have split three times during The Charlatans’ lifetime, perfectly illustrating what an achievement it’s been for them to outlast the 1990s Madchester and Britpop scenes the UK music press initially aligned them with.
Ostensibly here to promote recently released eleventh album Who We Touch to potential Australian buyers, The Charlatans are, in reality, preaching to the converted, as evidenced by the English accents filling Billboard before the band take to the stage. But that’s OK. Two decades in music means they’ve more than earned the right to lap up praise from long term fans.
What’s not OK is the dreadful mop-top bowl-cut-with-mullet combo singer Tim Burgess currently sports; an unflattering hairstyle that makes him look like Richard III. To be fair, some balding Charlatans fans would love to be able to indulge in such tonsorial carnage and the irrepressible front man’s enthusiasm manages to offset this self-inflicted impediment with a beaming Burgess taking Who We Touch’s title literally by spending half of the gig shaking hands with front row audience members.
Kicking off with early single Then from debut album Some Friendly, The Charlatans quickly lock into their baggy groove with the start-stop kick of Weirdo and upbeat Can’t Get Out Of Bed proving to be an effective opening salvo. Blackened Blue Eyes, the sole track aired from the ill-judged reggae tinged 2006 Simpatico album, keeps proceedings flowing and then – with the exception of the booming assault of the magnificent One To Another – it all falls a bit flat. Mid-tempo numbers Your Pure Soul, My Beautiful Friend and Intimacy are nice, but they do drag on a bit live.
Fortunately, with such a deep back catalogue to plunder, things perk up with a blistering closing sequence beginning with The Misbegotten, a track built around a New Order bass line (someone has to be New Order now Peter Hook thinks he’s Joy Division) followed by a crunching double-whammy of swirling first hit The Only One I Know and the anthemic North Country Boy that has the bellowing north country boys in the front rows crowd surfing.
This Is The End aptly ends the main set with an encore of Who We Touch’s Sex Pistols-aping lead single Love Is Ending and traditional sprawling closer Sproston Green sending the devoted off on a high.
After taking 15 years to make their first trip here in 2008, it was good to see The Charlatans back so soon. Hopefully they’ll cross our path again.