The Charlatans @ O2 Apollo, Manchester, 2 Dec
Technical difficulties aside, The Charlatans perform a competent set tonight, but we can't help but feel they can do better
We arrive as Brix & The Extricated tear through U.S. 80's - 90's from The Fall’s seminal Bend Sinister album (past a certain point, all Fall albums are seminal), before treating us to several tracks from their own recent Part 2 album. We want to be kind because Brix Smith Start and her compadres are responsible, at least in part, for some terrific songs and why shouldn’t they be allowed to play them? But the truth is: a lot of it is sludgy, out of key and rather desperate. Their set can’t even be saved by Tim Burgess joining Brix for a sprint through Totally Wired.
This wobbliness carries forward into The Charlatans' own set as technical issues with the drumkit see them turn in Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over before leaving the stage. When they return, we get pairings from the two most recent albums – Different Days and Modern Nature – interspersed with bona fide classics (Weirdo, One to Another, North Country Boy). Whilst the newer songs are fine, the older songs draw such a reaction that you can’t help but think: Tellin' Stories was an album that felt like The Charlatans were on their way to being a massive band, when in fact it was the point at which they peaked.
Burgess’ penchant for standing at the front of the stage lifting his arms in the air like a ten-year-old doing weights doesn’t help either. No one wants him to be Liam Gallagher, but he should slope more like a sly prize fighter than a giddy kipper. Which isn’t to say that the night is a washout, or that The Charlatans don’t remain a band it’s easy to like a whole lot; as they race through Tellin' Stories, Come Home Baby, Love is the Key, Over Rising and then – of course – The Only One I Know, they build up a real head of steam and everything suddenly starts to move in the right direction.
It’s just that you can’t help but come away with niggles. The Charlatans are more than efficient, better than competent, able to do better. They can tear the roof off sometimes. But there are times when it feels like their hearts simply aren't in it. We don’t want them to call it a day. But we do want them to put an end to diminishing returns, summon up the very best of themselves and come back with an album that knocks Tellin' Stories on its arse. That’s what we’ve been missing.