29th November 2016
It’s been twenty or so years since enduring indie pop outfit Teenage Fanclub enjoyed their finest commercial moments in the 1990s. Praise arrived from such nineties rock alumni as Kurt Cobain who called them “the best band in the world” while a more measured Liam Gallagher – offering little mystery as to his first choice – dubbed them “the second best band in the world.” Since 1997’s Songs From Northern Britain saw a career best number 3 spot in the UK album charts, the Scottish band have drifted into the partial obscurity of the cult appeal that seems to so align with their understated nature.
However, a second visit to the city in less than three months and an upgrade from the 400 capacity Fleece to an ostensibly near sell-out audience at the 1150 capacity Anson rooms suggests that the appeal here in Bristol is not quite so cultic. In fact, since that Fleece appearance, latest album Here has achieved a top ten spot on the UK album chart (though the depleted salience of charting in the modern context is obviously significant) and six of its tracks get an airing here.
For the most part, the new songs sound like they could’ve leapt out from any point in the Teenage Fanclub discography; ‘Thin Air’ is a typically warm melody wrapped up in a triple attack of strummed guitars and the pleasant melding of guitarist Norman Blake and bassist Gerard Love’s singing voices. ‘The Darkest Part of the Night’ is crammed with sunny West Coast charm – it prominently displaying familiar Byrds-esque group harmonies and a bright Fleetwood Mac style chorus. ‘First Sight’ contains all these elements and, curiously, echoes of ‘The Greatest Love of All’ emerging from Ray McGinley’s guitar break.
However, as is to be expected, it’s the older songs that induce the warmest receptions. Blake jokes about having a tumble dryer on cycle backstage and being out of “smalls” at this part of the tour before the jangling intro to ‘Verisimilitude’ kick-starts a crowd pleasing one-two punch from 1995 album Grand Prix; ‘Don’t Look Back’ follows, its energetic outro lead by McGinley’s fuzzy guitar lines eaten up by an increasingly involved audience.
A standout moment arrives with ‘I Need Direction’ – the chiming descent of its guitar hook is the immediate signal of fine moments to come and its participatory backing vocals are apparently irresistible to a nearby group of friends in the audience.
There is something very charming about Teenage Fanclub – their apparent lack of edge or attitude seems perfectly encapsulated by their soft melodic indie and floating harmonies. Blake, who has been keeping his guitar tech busy with replacement guitars for the majority of the evening’s songs, consistently displays a wide smile of enjoyment and there’s a modest awkwardness from Love when “I love you Gerry!” is bellowed from the audience.
Though there’s an occasional safeness and samey-ness to the songs, the fact that an enjoyable tune is never too far round the corner assures that one’s attention never drifts for too long. ‘Sparky’s Dream’ is glorious surge of melodic guitar pop while the pleasing “oh yeah” refrain and harmony-laden sway of the outro of ‘The Concept’ offers up – to several in the crowd at least – a real arms-around-your-mates-moment.
A four song encore follows – including “a great song written by a great man” in the form of Grant McLennan’s ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ – and there seems enough evidence in the room to suggest that Cobain and Gallagher’s sentiments continue to have an enduring echo.