Saturday, September 29, 2018

One to Another: The Charlatans UK Continue to Well Represent the Madchester & BritPop Scenes -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Charlatans UK
w/ opening act Frankie
Bottom Lounge, Chicago
September 25, 2018

Especially at this point in my life, I don't think I would really enjoy attending one of the big UK rock festivals: Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds, Isle of Wight, etc.

But I've always loved seeing video of these vast gatherings, especially when the massive crowds sing along to favorites from the British Isles.

Obviously, huge festivals are not native to the UK--I've attended multiple Lollapaloozas and Riot Fests in Chicago and elsewhere, though not anymore except for Milwaukee Summerfest, which is a bit different--and, as everywhere, American and international artists are also represented.

But I've long had fascination with and affinity for English/Irish/Welsh/Scottish bands that become UK superstars while remaining relatively unknown in the U.S. In 2006 I even compiled an 8-CD boxed set of such acts--The Move, The Jam, Blur, Razorlight, Robbie Williams, Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs, etc., etc.--that I titled Hidden in the Isles.

This September, at venues on the north side of Chicago, accompanied by probably no more than 4,000 total fans--and as few as 100 per show--I've seen what would constitute a strong daily lineup at Glastonbury (or, in America, a Hidden in the Isles Festival):

The Charlatans UK
(hyperlinks to my reviews)

To round out the day with a bit of modernity, we could also add The Vaccines--who I'll be seeing Oct. 11--and The Ramona Flowers, who I enjoyed opening for the Stereophonics. 

Between them, these bands have had twelve #1 albums in the UK and 31 that have hit the top 10, yet none that have charted above #73 in the U.S. (with the vast majority never hitting the Billboard 200).

I don't remember exactly when I got into The Charlatans UK--so-suffixed due to an old U.S. band with the same name--but it wasn't around the 1990 release of Some Friendly, which was the album that hit #73 here.

1997's Tellin' Stories--which hit #1 overseas but didn't chart here--was the first Charlatans album I owned (though I don't recall when or why I discovered it) and it remains my favorite.

The Charlatans were initially part of the "Madchester" scene along with the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, James and the like, but I really don't think I knew of them until well after Oasis exploded out of Manchester later in the '90s.

So they also fit in well with BritPop, a rock subset especially dear to my heart. (I once ran a BritPop Meetup Group, though it wasn't a smashing success.)

The band has had some lineup changes due to the tragic deaths of Rob Collins (in 1996) and Jon Brookes (in 2013), but remains largely intact with singer Tim Burgess, guitarist Mark Collins and bassist Martin Blunt all in tow since the early '90s. Keyboardist Tony Rodgers is also a 20+ year member, but I can't cite with certainty the current drummer.

I had seen the Charlatans once before, in 2006 at the Vic, and while I don't like them quite as much as Stereophonics or Ash, nor Blur, Pulp or Oasis for that matter, I've enjoyed several songs over the years.

Admittedly, I didn't thoroughly devour their past two albums when released--last year's Different Days, from which "Plastic Machinery" did make my "Best of 2017," and 2015's Modern Nature--but studied up on Spotify in noting recent setlists.

That 11 of 19 songs played at Chicago's Bottom Lounge came from these two albums bespeaks the confidence the Charlatans have in their material released since the loss of Brookes, and songs like "Emilie," "Let the Good Times Be Never Ending," "Different Days," "Come Home Baby" and "So Oh" joined "Plastic Machinery" in showing they still create fine music.

Burgess is a fun frontman with an excellent voice, and the band certainly did perform some prime old stuff: the highly charged "One to Another," the piano driven "Just When You're Thinking Things Over," "The Only One I Know," "Weirdo" and "North Country Boy."

So it was a good show, especially as the SRO Bottom Lounge kindly provided me a place to sit upon request. I arrived a bit late to see all of the opening act, Frankie, but enjoyed what I caught of the all (or perhaps mostly, as I couldn't see everyone onstage nor find them online) woman band.

Yet it wasn't quite a phenomenal concert, in part perhaps due to a bit too much new stuff, at least for my tastes.

I had sent a tweet to Burgess a few days before the gig politely requesting that the Charlatans play "Blackened Blue Eyes"--a fantastic song from 2006's Simpatico--in Chicago.

Though he kindly "liked" my tweet, my request wasn't honored, which I respect. The band should play what they want.

But the concert could have used that tune's punch, and two other songs that would make my Charlatans Top 5 (along with it, "One to Another" and "Plastic Machinery")--"How High" and "With No Shoes"--were also eschewed.

Thus--but not only due to these omissions--I didn't find the Charlatans' performance quite as delectable as those by Stereophonics and Ash.

But as alluded above, that was unlikely coming in, and I'm not saying the show was disappointing. I very much enjoyed it, and Burgess and the band sounded terrific even if I might have relished a few different songs.

And it undoubtedly added to what has been a wonderful British festival of sorts, with likely considerably
longer setlists and far greater creature comforts.

While it would likely be blissful to sing along to "One to Another"--and "Local Boy in the Photograph" (Stereophonics), "Girl From Mars" (Ash), "This is the Day" (The The)--alongside 100,000 other music fans, not having to stand in a (possibly rainy & muddy) field all day, being right up close to the stage, having ready access to clean restrooms, food & drink and getting home easily makes my own private Glastonbury even better than the real thing.

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