The Charlatans with James Dean Bradfield, Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher: Brixton Academy, London

live review

i2i23Of those performers playing tonight's benefit for the Missing Persons Helpline, James Dean Bradfield is the one with the most obvious link to the charity. Despite an alleged sighting in Goa, his band mate and childhood friend, Richey Edwards, is still missing. As guest of headliners, The Charlatans, the Manics' frontman plays "Tristesse Durera", "This is Yesterday" and the epic "Design For Life", looking like John Prescott's son but sounding like Aretha's little brother.

On comes Paul Weller, wearing that slightly furtive look, as if he's been round your house and broken something then hidden it under a rug instead of telling you. On comes Noel Gallagher, with that look that says, "I'm out of my mind." He plays "Half a World Away" and "Shakermaker" to an ecstatic crowd. Weller adds fine, if gruff, backing vocals and his own "Changingman" is ferociously energetic. Although the question remains: if Paul Weller's always singing about being the changing man, why is it he never changes?

This is something that works in The Charlatans' favour. They have changed very little in the course of their career. "One to Another" is the most forward-looking of rock records - post-modern without beeing (sic) cold - but then so was "Weirdo". Tellin' Stories is a supremely masterful, relaxed album of simple melodics and harmonies but no more so than the previous record or the glorious Up to Our Hips. The only noticeable difference is that Tim Burgess's vocals were previously too low in the mix.

He is more confident now, even playing harmonica on "Get on It". The singer represents the idiot savant as pop star. Backstage he will dismiss Mansun's Attack of the Grey Lantern with a perplexed "When did you last hear about anyone getting attacked by a grey lantern?". On stage he'll sing "A heartache's as good as you feel it". As a lyricist, the pin-up boy remains criminally underrated.

Weller returns to the stage for "Can't Get out of Bed" and "Sproston Green", which, though an undisputed "rock moment", is unnecessary since they already have a brilliant guitarist in Mark Collins. Keyboardist Tony Rodgers gives his all, replacing the late Rob Collins, who was so pivotal to The Charlatans' sound. Bassist Martin Blunt is fast becoming a visual focal point, bending closer and closer to the floor as the gig progresses. Drummer Jon Brookes always looks like he's going to burst out laughing as he plays. That's it: No band looks like they're having more fun. They are the most unselfconscious group I've ever seen.

That Tellin' Stories should be the fastest-selling album of the year, outselling their nearest rivals, Supergrass, by 15,000 in the first week, is not to do with the band changing tactics. Rather, the Q magazine record- buying public have chosen to reject bands who are all concept and no heart for genuine Nineties soul music.

Emma Forrest

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