The Charlatans | Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

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The Independent Culture

Contenders for the illustrious title of Unluckiest Band In The World are plentiful and the Charlatans rank high in the galaxy of star-crossed musicians. Despite being the authors of a handful of distinctly hummable tunes, received wisdom has it that the Mancunian outfit have never really enjoyed the success they deserved. During the "Madchester" era they were repeatedly trumped by the baggy antics of Happy Mondays, Stone Roses et al. In 1996 their keyboardist, Rob Collins, the man held largely responsible for their funk-inflected sound, was killed in a car crash. This was followed by an embezzlement loss in the six-figure region, a catastrophe which might have seen a lesser band throw in the towel.

It's no wonder that the title of their latest album, Us and Us Only, conjures visions of a band struggling against the odds, emerging damaged yet determined from a mire of misfortune. The album, and tonight's show, comes across as the mission statement from a band finally laying claim to the epic rock throne.

The Charlatans' sound may be far from pioneering (the early Seventies still feature heavily) but there is a new maturity that suggests that they have put the past behind them. Certainly, they have eschewed their shuffling indie background in favour of something grander. Opening with the sprawling "Forever", Tim Burgess moves lackadaisically around the stage with his familiar knock-kneed gait (the hallmark of a Mancunian pop star), limping slightly after an altercation with a door. The song sets the standard for an evening of swirling psychedelia and grandiloquent rock. Their retro leanings are bolstered by the Wurlitzer keyboard of Rob Collins' replacement, Tony Rogers, and the odd splash of harmonica from Burgess.

Eclectic is a word rarely used in connection with the Charlatans, though the evening underlines the sheer variety of influences at work; "Impossible" is a distillation of Dylan and the Stones, though "One To Another" could just as well be a club anthem and provokes bleary-eyed sentimentality from the crowd. The joyously funky groove of "Sproston Green" is extended into an epic, stadium-style encore that also prompts a sea of fluttering hands.

In the realms of soulful rock The Charlatans could well pick up where The Verve left off. Now they may finally find the big-time success that has so far eluded them.