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The Charlatans Celebrate in Style at Liverpool’s Mountford Hall [Show Review]

Indie legends The Charlatans put on a wonderful celebration of their music at Liverpool’s Mountford Hall. Read the review here…



The Charlatans
The Charlatans, press photo

A Charlatans tour is always cause for celebration, and when it’s a Greatest Hits tour, even more so. Mountford Hall, Liverpool’s long-standing Uni venue, is perfect for those of a certain age who remember those student days of the ’90s when The Charlatans were the perfect student band. It’s only right then that Seb Lowe should be supporting. Despite his fresh sound, there is also a warming sense of nostalgia to his searing left-wing anthems, a Billy Bragg for a new generation. Possibly.

His set is nothing short of electric, helped by his band, who avoid the cliché of merely supporting the singer and achieving the status of one of the tightest groups of musicians I’ve heard in an age. Sharply dressed and including Kate, a brilliant violinist who raises the bar above your average indie group, this is a young band to be reckoned with. Lyrically, Lowe is a staunch soap box campaigner and then some, with elongated poetic rants that make no bones about the state of Britain, “Ode to Britannia” takes on the form of a manifesto and pulls few punches.” I married a Talking Head” is almost pure pop and Lowe’s voice cannot help but draw comparisons with early Alex Turner, but there is so much more to this band than a proto–Arctic Monkeys, not least in their range, veering from jazz to glam and back to anthemic folk rock, and it all works.

My only qualm with Seb Lowe is that it feels like this should be a band, with a band name rather than just Seb’s name. This is no criticism, merely an observation that a band this strong deserves its own identity. Either way, they are surely heading for bigger things; please check them out.

From political angst to sheer joy, The Charlatans arrive, and instantly it feels like summer.

Tim Burgess, with his trademark mop of white hair, peers out rosy-cheeked with a smile to melt the room. There’s an immediate sense that Burgess has an infinity with Liverpool by his warm welcome and a widescreen drone shot of the Mersey skyline behind him, but maybe that’s how he talks to all the towns.

Opening with “I Don’t Want to See the Sights” from Between 10th and 11th recalls their gigs from last year that celebrated the album’s 30th anniversary, and they performed it in full. Tonight, there are no restrictions as they work their way through most of A Head full of Ideas, their semi-recent compilation whose title I’ve only just noticed sounds dangerously close to The SmithsHatful of Hollow.

What makes a Charlatans’ gig so special is the bond between Burgess and his audience, looking directly into their eyes, making them believe they are number one fans. Throughout the gig, he donates a plectrum, a drumstick and a ream of setlists to his loving front row fans, further cementing his status as one of the sweetest blokes in the business.

“Just When You’re Thinking Things Over” and “One to Another” keep spirits high, and there’s a sense that the BIG hits are being saved until later, and when they do, it becomes the best party in town. “Jesus Hairdo,” “Then,” “North Country Boy,” “Tellin’ Stories,” “Let the Good Times Be Never Ending,” and “Weirdo,” seriously this band has had some bangers. “Weirdo,” in particular, recalls those halcyon early days with the late Rob Collins’ Wurlitzer organ, now lovingly recreated by Tony Rogers.

Throughout the entire gig, Burgess retains his energy, and his smile never drops; this is a celebration of a band whose 30-plus years have never seen them miss a step. Even more than the much-heralded Stone Roses, the Charlatans have remained iconic and certainly produced a hell of a lot more albums. The lead singer hasn’t resorted to a karaoke tour either.

Drawing to a close, “The Only One I Know” is described by Burgess as having the best intro ever; he may have a point. There’s a quiet lull with “Impossible” from 1999’s Us and Only Us before the full-on sonic attack of “How High,” which sees late revellers rushing to the front for a last-minute mosh.

“You’re so Pretty – We’re So Pretty” from the classic Wonderland album kicks off a welcome encore, and the bonus of the upbeat “Bad Times” from You Cross My Path fills the gap before the epic “Sproston Green,” the album closer from their debut, Some Friendly, which has ended Charlatans shows for many a year. The long build-up led to a mass singalong. Burgess leaves the stage for the band to gradually fade to a close, and there it is, the celebration is over.

If their last album, the criminally ignored tonight, Different Days, is anything to go by, the celebration is far from over. The Charlatans as always were bloody brilliant tonight, Liverpool salutes you.

Del Pike is a University lecturer in Film and Media in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.