The Charlatans, Academy, Islington, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Few British bands can tear the roof off a venue as ruthlessly as The Charlatans.

Few British bands can tear the roof off a venue as ruthlessly as The Charlatans. It's one of the reasons for the enduring affection in which they are held, 15 years into a career that has seen them survive scenes from Baggy to Britpop and luck so bad it could look like a curse: the imprisonment and then death in a car crash of their keyboardist Rob Collins, and the embezzlement by their accountant of a small fortune.

When the singer Tim Burgess went to Los Angeles, it seemed a mortal blow. But he returned with the Curtis Mayfield-inspired soul of one of their strongest albums, Wonderland. As they preview songs from their eighth album Up at the Lake at this packed but low-key show, only one enemy remains: the slow death of indifference. After 15 years, have The Charlatans survived for a reason?

Burgess addresses this at the start: "The Charlatans haven't split up," he announces, as his band file on to the usual heroes' welcome and crash into the single "Up at the Lake". One benefit of veteran status is immediately apparent: the easy authority of Burgess as vocalist. Though still boyish and wide-eyed in attitude, he has matured as a rock singer. As he debuts the album's songs in order, touches of Wonderland's falsetto pleading alternate with hollers. On "Watch You in Disbelief" he cuts loose in gravel-throated abandon. For "Bonafide Treasure", he mixes rock and soul mannerisms with an almost easy-listening lilt.

The decision to, in effect, rehearse their new songs in front of an audience, ahead of a full tour, presents problems. Unheard by almost everyone present, Up at the Lake's loose assembly of classic pop references, from Fleetwood Mac to Wings, has not had the chance to sink into people's hearts. We are being asked to respond to these songs with innocent ears. It's a tribute to The Charlatans' ability, and the fans' loyalty, that they get away with it. Beer glasses are raised to every stylistic twist, from the "You're So Vain"-referencing "Loving You is Easy" to their best new song, "Try Again Today". An instant anthem, with a McCartneyesque melody surging to a chorus, it alone justifies their continued existence.

On their return for a short second set of hits, you see The Charlatans' true status. As the Stonesy swagger of "North Country Boy" shifts into the acid drum-roll of "One to Another", the crowd sway, messed-up and misty-eyed. Like Oasis at their best, The Charlatans translated clubland euphoria into rock music, offering a soundtrack to a lifetime's ephemeral highs. Fans don't forget that.