Charlatans right on form

Review by Jack Foley

THE Charlatans played Wembley Arena on Saturday, December 15th, and Indielondon was lucky enough to catch up with them earlier on their tour in Southampton. This is what we thought.

SUPERLATIVES are beginning to run dry for The Charlatans, such is the brilliance of the year the band is currently enjoying.

Having defied the nagging critics by returning with an album of sheer quality (Wonderland) only weeks ago, and virtually stealing the show at V2001 in the summer, Tim Burgess and co delivered a blistering concert in front of a packed Southampton crowd on Tuesday evening which was crammed with so many highs it was impossible to keep count.

A colleague and long-time Charly's fan I saw it with was led to remark afterwards that he had seldom seen Burgess so "up for it", and this is a pretty accurate reflection on the vigour with which the frontman conducted proceedings - laughing, dancing, and pausing for photographs to the delight of a delirious and very sweaty audience.

Opening with the first single to be taken from Wonderland, Love Is The Key, The Charlatans proceeded to take us through a selection of the new album's highlights - Judas, in particular, standing out early on with its mixture of beats and vocal styles - before delivering crowd-pleasers such as Tellin' Stories (the first trip down memory lane), One To Another, North Country Boy and Weirdo.

But, in truth, it didn't seem to matter what they played - or even how, in certain cases (the odd note was mis-played) - because Burgess's energy was infectious and it was sometimes hard to breathe in the "sweaty mosh-pit" of the Guildhall.

This was the type of concert which should make Charlatans sceptics take note. Often written off, and woefully under-rated, the band deserve to be counted among Britain's finest and their durability - if nothing else - should be taken as a mark of their success. Not only have they survived the early Nineties Indie scene which they helped to create, but they have blossomed and strengthened in a way that The Stone Roses (still great) and The Happy Mondays, for example, never managed.

That they are still willing to experiment with their music, adapt their style and go for something different - much in the same way as Blur have managed to continue sounding fresh and exciting - is another thing to be applauded, for Wonderland represents a brave new era for the band which, judging from last night, may even give them a wider audience.

Burgess had previously complained about not being able to deliver the type of live performances which did the new material justice, but in Southampton his vocal range was nearly always spot-on and he managed to go from the vocal highs of tracks such as the new single, A Man Needs to be Told and I Just Can't Get Over Losing You to the trademark sound of How High - The Charlatans anthem that brought the first act to a suitably rousing close - without too much bother.

Only once, during the encore's version of And If I Fall (one of the new album's best tracks) did he duck out of the vocal shift, but the track worked anyway, because when Burgess needed a breather, his colleagues were there to back him up with some blistering musical performances. They all played their part in reproducing the different sounds of the new album.

And just when you were thinking things over at the end of a superb evening, The Charlatans delivered a truly memorable finale, a barn-storming version of perennial back catalogue favourite, Sproston Green, which sent the crowd delirious.

This, without doubt, was one of the gigs of the year and should help to ensure that the Wembley Arena dates in December are a sell-out. The Charlatans are most certainly back with a bang and one wonders, with the long-overdue critical acclaim now being afforded them, just How High they can go. The band is certainly living it like they love it. So, too, are the fans.