"Travis are nice. But so is Des O'Connor, and you wouldn't want to invite him round to your house," a friend of mine said before this gig.
"Travis are nice. But so is Des O'Connor, and you wouldn't want to invite him round to your house," a friend of mine said before this gig. But, to judge by the opening night of Travis's small-venue tour, an unnatural number of people are desperate to invite a bit of nice round to tea.
It's the cheeky smile that does it, a toothy grin that Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet would have been proud of. When Travis's front man, Fran Healy, breaks into one of those smiles and the crowd go mad, just for a second believing that he is communing with them on an individual level, you know the band could play an hour of Status Quo covers and still have people eating out of their hands.
Travis have that rare thing, you see - charisma. It goes deeper than their lead singer. It resonates throughout their songs; emotional everyman epics, perhaps, but somehow touching people on a personal level. Which, surely, is what great guitar pop should do.
And Travis do make great guitar pop. Indeed, it's only when you hear their many hits lined up live (as at this gig, or on the greatest hits CD and DVD that the tour is promoting) that you realise just how many huge singles they have released - records that became almost omnipresent when they were released, soundtracking everything from going shopping at the supermarket to watching a soap opera.
Which is why, in their eight-year existence, Travis have notched up no fewer than four Top 10 albums (two of which made No 1), 15 Top 40 singles, three Brit awards, an Ivor Novello and a host of headline appearances at festivals throughout the world. Everybody loves them.
This gig, then, is hardly an event where we can expect the unexpected. There are no four-letter words; amps are certainly set below 11; and, apart from some guitar histrionics during "All I Wanna Do is Rock", rock-star poses are absent. What you do get is a guitar band with great pop songs and a crowd that devours every last nuance. As you might expect.
Travis deliver a solid show stuffed to the gills with their best-known songs and the occasional fans' favourite for added effect. "Sing" has the crowd doing just that; "Driftwood" brings about a flurry of fans hoisted on to shoulders to show their appreciation; "Flowers in the Window" is similarly met with unbridled affection.
The inevitable show-stopper "Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" again brings the crowd out in full song, just as it had earlier in the day when Travis took their songs to the streets of Newcastle for an impromptu busking session. But the stand-out song came at the end: the stunning "Flashing Blue Light".
So: no shocks, no surprises, just a whole lot of nice and a singer with a cheeky smile. What more could you ask for?
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