LIVE: The Charlatans @ O2 Academy

Where many bands have faltered, The Charlatans have endured. When drummer Jon Brookes sadly passed away in August 2013 following a long battle with brain cancer, they faced their greatest challenge yet. As they struggled to find the inspiration to create new music, it was the memory of their absent band member and friend that spurred them on to produce their uplifting twelfth album Modern Nature and embark on another tour.

Warming up a packed O2 Academy, with their own delectable mix of jaunty numbers, were Mackem band Frankie & The Heartstrings. With dancing high on the agenda for this evening’s proceedings Frankie knocked out some rather impressive shapes to get things started, before treating the crowd to their festive single ‘(Too Right) It’s Christmas’. This December however, Christmas is being overshadowed by another more important event, so it seemed only right that The Charlatans opened their set with their own homage. With the lights turned down low and the psychedelic beat of ‘Talking in Tones’ creating a sci-fi feel, yellow credits listing all the venues for the tour were beamed on to the big screen as they rolled away in to distant space – à la Star Wars.

Tim Burgess looks a bit like Andy Warhol, with his blonde bowl cut and signature dress sense, only a damn sight more fun to behold

Yes, even The Charlatans can not escape the omni-present force. Their nod was appreciated with a smattering of laughter and cheers, before the place erupted in full as the band waltzed on and Tim Burgess took centre stage. As flashes went off in the crowd, Tim used his own phone to take a photo of the rapturous crowd, before demonstrating that he’s just as tech savvy as these new kids on the block by promptly tweeted the photo right there on stage (and if you look really hard it, whilst kind of squinting, you can just about see me).

Beginning with ‘Talking in Lines’ seems all the more fitting when Tim intones the line “I feel strengthened by your presence”, a poignant statement that resonates with the band’s stories from when they were recording the album. Then ‘Weirdo’ takes everyone on a trip – and some of the middle aged mods in the crowd down memory lane – to those crazy Madchester days in the Hacienda. A flawless rendition of ‘North Country Boy’ serves up some vintage indie fare and the chance for the first real sing along of the evening, with Tim only too happy to indulge the crowd as he offers up the mic for the chorus. The irresistible drum beat of ‘Oh Vanity’ quickly follows, which instantly gets the crowd clapping along and drives the feel good factor onwards. Only four songs in and we’ve already covered almost twenty-five years of music, each a testament to how The Charlatans can both move with the times and still create timeless music.

Where many bands have faltered, The Charlatans have endured… it was the memory of their absent band member and friend that spurred them on

In a way Tim Burgess looks a bit like Andy Warhol, with his blonde bowl cut and signature dress sense, only a damn sight more fun to behold. He is the perennial youth, with his endearing smile and trademark moves, his swagger is beguiling rather than arrogant. He strikes a charismatic figure as he grooves through the summery uplifting tunes of ‘So Oh’, his smile ever widening, before whipping off his jumper so he can get down to real business with ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’. New song ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’ is a funky number complete with those magical instrumentals from the Madchester era that allows a guy like Tim to really strut his stuff and show Frankie how it’s done. Then it’s time to take another tack and switch on the bravado for the rebellious and dystopian sound of ‘One to Another’.

When the band teases the crowd with the opening notes of ‘The Only One I Know’, excitement reaches fever pitch, men who should never dance (such as me) begin trying to emulate Tim’s own funky moves, those who have more sense stick to waving their arms in the air and singing Tim’s lines back to the band, whatever your preference is, the atmosphere is phenomenal. By the time they return for the last few songs the place is in party mood; Tim laughing as he shouts “Show me the money!” in ‘You’re So Pretty, We’re So Pretty’, making jokes about what time curfew is, then promising to make their traditional finale ‘Sproston Green’ last as long as possible. True to their word the band transform their rendition in a monumental affair, building a tumultuous sound full of energy and exuberance, frenetically racing forever onwards towards their crescendo.

The Charlatans will live on, and in their music, so will their departed friend.

Christopher Little 

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