The Charlatans, Brixton Academy, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Compared with, say, the Rolling Stones, the 17 years that The Charlatans have been going is a mere blink of the eye. But it's different for a band that started up in 1989 and don't have the whole baby-boomer machine to sustain them. Indie rock-years should surely count as double.

Whichever way you look at it, the Tim Burgess-led five-piece have had a hell of a career, and while they may never have touched the heights of The Stone Roses or Oasis - either musically or in terms of cultural import - they have retained an inventiveness and a quality that defy most known laws of pop's ageing process.

If any band deserves a retrospective, it is The Charlatans, and that's what they are up to at the moment, with a greatest-hits compilation released last month (Forever. The Singles), backed by a tour in which all 18 of the songs off the album are performed.

So we know where we are at a heaving Brixton Academy - on a journey that's no less exciting for the familiarity of the sights, with a tour guide in Burgess whose charisma, lissomeness and vocal style are an amalgam of both Jagger and Dylan.

It's a crackingly exuberant performance and, in spite of the back-catalogue approach, you never get the sense that the band are merely indulging themselves. It all feels fresh, and we're constantly reminded that whatever inflections the music takes on - rock, folk, soul, techno - The Charlatans have produced some of the most anthemic hooks in the business. The propulsive energy of "Weirdo" sets the place alight early on.

"My Beautiful Friend" is another exercise in pure swagger, and ribcages are shaken by the bass on "Love is the Key". But there's variation in mood, too, as Burgess moves into the jaunty, Brit-pop rhythms of "Up At The Lake".

With the cascading keyboard intro to "A Man Needs to Be Told", we're in another realm again. It's a beautiful song, somehow Gallic in both melody and atmosphere, and Burgess explores its emotional depths with a striking sensitivity. The Dylan in him then comes to the fore during the encore with the harmonica-drenched "Impossible", a song that might have come straight out of the wilder climes of 1965.

Does Forever. The Singles hint at career conclusion? Earlier this year, the all-new album Simpatico came out, and more fresh material is expected in 2007. Rare among bands who have been around this long, The Charlatans, it seems, are blessed with the gift of living happily in both the past and the future at the same time.

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