live review; Travis Corn Exchange, Cambridge

James McNair
Thursday 24 July 1997 23:02

Given the Travis "anytime, anyplace, anywhere" gigging ethic, it seems only fitting that they should be named after Harry Dean Stanton's wanderlust-filled character in Paris, Texas. The consensus among pop's illuminati is that, even in boys-with-guitars-jaded 1997, these Glaswegian troubadours have enough callow brilliance to succeed where other next- big-things have failed. Tonight, they're the zingy, lean cuisine before Cast's increasingly indigestible meat-and-potatoes Brit-beat. With the cock-sure front of waltzer fare-collectors, they proceed to trounce our senses with a bumper box of sonic fireworks which includes Radiohead-esque ballads and "new glam-aesthetic" stompalongs. From the bombastic thrum of "All I Want To Do Is Rock" to the Ramones-like simplicity of "Happy", Travis connect and enthrall.

Much of the credit has to go to frontman Fran Healy; he has a crack in his voice that your heart falls through and a knack for making the audience feel part of what's going down. "Thanks for listening so hard even though you don't know the songs", he says at one point. The thing is, you think you do know them; not because they're derivative, but because they sound timeless. On "Funny Thing", a stunning acoustic ballad which crackles into life with the sound of a electric guitar feeding back, Healy really stretches out his larynx. He doesn't quite have Thom Yorke's vocal agility yet, but he can match him for goosebump-inducing fervour. Bass player Dougie Payne grins over at Healy almost constantly, and no wonder. Healy will make him money. Healy will make lots of people money.

When Travis first came to the attention of the popular music press, they were wrongly portrayed as a somewhat maudlin, "new grave" act. Though their epic ballads do have a certain tristfulness redolent of say, the Walker Brothers, this is only half the story. It's understandable, then, when Healy is at pains to point out that "Good Day to Die" is not a rallying call for lemmings, but an endorsement of the "savour the moment" philosophy which that North American Indian saying prescribes. "Today would be a good day to die. Look at the weather, for fuck's sake," he laughs.

It's the previous single, "U16 Girls", which really makes nonsense of the "miserabilists" tag. Following in the fine tradition of Gary Puckett's "Young Girl", the song warns against underage jiggery-pokery, and its swaggering bluster is about as life-affirming as pop gets. There are notes in the chorus where Healy's delivery is so impassioned that his voice- box sounds as though it's being power-sanded. One couldn't imagine this band going through the motions - they're far too smashed on the elixir of rock.

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