Travis, Brixton Academy, London

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The Independent Culture

"We're so happy to be here," says Fran Healy, genuinely. The Travis front man is beaming as though it's his birthday. And in a funny way, it is. Life for the Glasgow indie-rock quartet has been a bit hit and miss of late. After their drummer, Neil Primrose, had a near-fatal swimming-pool accident, the odds were stacked against Travis ever releasing another album, never mind touring. Yet here they are, doing both.

Although Travis's popularity - like Healy's hairline - may have receded somewhat since their 2001 peak, the brush with mortality has emboldened them. The new, set-dominating fourth album, 12 Memories, is spiced with eloquent darkness and intelligent observation. Songs about betrayal, fragile life and war supplant the sort of sweet but interminably soppy ode to their girlfriend that featured on The Invisible Band and the angsty introspection that made their breakthrough second album, The Man Who, such a mainstream success.

Thankfully, Travis are not taking themselves too seriously. Before the show, the band keep a bemused, sold-out crowd waiting in black silence before the question "Happy to Hang Around?" scrolls across the screens at the back of the stage. Only then do Travis come on, kicking off with the searing, typically Radiohead-tinged new song of that name. Healy - dressed in an oddly fitting white suit and his ever-present hat - jokingly dedicates the intense newie "Mid-Life Krysis" to "all the drama queens in the audience". When he plays the poignant anti-war song "Beautiful Occupation", he shrugs off accusations that Travis have gone "political", explaining simply that the alternative - saying nothing - would be like watching helplessly as a freight train crashed.

But it's their passion that speaks the loudest. The band's heart-clinching melancholy and infectious melodies still inspire ardent sing-alongs, but there is now a rawer, more urgent edge to their songs, revealing an exciting, feedback-singed, rocky core. And despite their new, perhaps more mature, song-writing direction, Travis are not ashamed to play the songs that made them. Alive with purpose, they tear through old hits such as "Turn" and the trademark "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?", while the old favourite "All I Want to Do Is Rock" still sizzles with youthful electricity.

The 90-minute set ends with their emotive plea against apathy, "Peace the Fuck Out". As far as anti-war sentiments go, it is hardly poetry. But when Travis urge: "You have a voice, so use it", it's hard not to be touched by their sincerity. Coldplay may have superseded Travis as the mainstream's favourite indie-balladeers, but released from their hit-writing obligations, Travis are reborn utterly invigorated.