The Charlatans have done this plenty of times before. 25 years and 12 albums down the line, you would think they’d be a bigger draw on the touring circuit for their latest visit, but for tonight the relatively cozy confines of The Academy will do just fine. Despite the band’s longevity however, there’s nothing old-hat about their introduction, a packed-out venue welcoming the legendary Mancunians back to these shores with open arms. The stirring, bass driven sounds of ‘Forever’ set the scene nicely, Mark Collins and Martin Blunt warming things up before Tim Burgess (sporting his new bleached-blonde look) emerges, lackadaisically snapping pictures of the appreciative crowd. “You guys have been on the cards for a while” he exclaims, before his distinctly shrill vocals remind everyone what they came for.
Golden oldie ‘Weirdo’, performed with the usual whim, unsurprisingly gets the crowd in the mood, before the band come down a level for the melancholy sounds of ‘Talking in Tones’, the lead single off current album ‘Modern Nature’. Being that this is their first real European tour since the tragic death of original drummer Jon Brookes in 2013, there is a notably regretful air about the band. Some slightly muffled performances on tracks like ‘Tellin’ Stories’, and ‘Trouble Understanding’ demonstrate a somewhat pensive edge to the gig but knowing they have a job to do, The Charlatans eventually give over to the exuberance of the crowd rather than dwelling on nostalgia.
Known to be a shy, often quite reserved character, Burgess even starts to shows signs of enjoying himself, engaging with some breezy dance moves and the odd high-five to the front row, the rest of the band remaining steadfastly reliable in the background. Seminal track ‘North Country Boy’ is performed with the usual light-hearted gusto, followed by sprightly new pop release ‘So Oh’, and a marquee rendition of new single ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’, one of the bigger performances on the night, even if the acoustics are slightly off. The atmosphere now at a comfortably giddy height, The Charlatans bring us back down to earth will the stylishly sullen ‘You’re So Pretty – We’re So Pretty’, highlighting the multi-layered nature of the evening’s performance.
The biggest cheer of the night however is reserved for fan-favourites ‘One to Another’ and ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’, classics in their own right but still performed with the same level of vigour and enthusiasm as they most surely were back in the early-to-mid 90s. Of course there really is no surprise here. The much-varied playlist on show tonight is not only a tribute to the sheer amount of material they’ve produced over the last two and half decades, but also to their overall character as a band. In stark contrast to some of the more pretentious musical reunions of recent years, The Charlatans’ continued existence, (apart from Brookes’ death they have never even entertained the notion of splitting up) not to mention desire to keep touring, is a real testament to a band that have been through more than their fair share of rough times of late but emerged all the stronger because of them.
With their breakout anthem ‘The Only One I Know’ and uplifting new single ‘Come Home Baby’ fittingly concluding what is a job well done by the band prior to their customary, hard-hitting encore of ‘Blackened Blue Eyes’ and ‘Sproston Green’, the audience depart the venue more than satisfied. In many ways tonight’s performance mirrors The Charlatan’s latest work, itself a tribute to the sadly departed Brookes. Refreshing, often enlightening, occasionally touching on darker times, but overall just highly entertaining stuff.