The Charlatans

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Concert Review by Jonathan Milton

Wembley Arena, London – December 2001

Wembley Arena can kill the atmosphere of even the best gigs. I’d prefer bands playing three gigs at the Brixton Academy instead. But the lure of the big crowd is the incentive and once more we were in the shadow of the twin towers. STARSAILOR are supporting tonight. They played to about three quarters of the crowd and didn’t do a bad job. Matthew Jay has got an individual and intriguing singing voice, but he’s a Jekyll and Hyde character. Singing he is very much a slick professional, however his between song banter makes him sound like a timid schoolboy. STARSAILOR have a sound that I think I should like – the trouble is I don’t. I can’t be constructive about it, as I don’t know what it is about them… they’re good musicians who have released strong singles. I just think they’re pants. The crowd were shouting that they were Verve clones and Jay weakly retorted that they weren’t. I’d agree they are no way near as good.

I’ve finished my old man trip, about things not being as good as the old days. Now on to THE CHARLATANS, who were around in the old days. Tim Burgess’s entrance seems to mirror the sound of ‘Wonderland’, it was a bit like the ROLLING STONES, well not all of them, just Mick. I had to look twice to make sure I hadn’t mistakenly come to one of the wrinkly rubber lipped wonders’ gigs. I hadn’t. Burgess soon stripped off his poncy suede cap and scarf and went into a scorching rendition of ‘Love is the Key’. Burgess’s much discussed falsetto voice does still seem a little shaky, but he hits the notes and belts it out as much as his vocal range will allow. I really don’t think he is a bad singer but he does sound strained at points and is obviously more comfortable with the older stuff, as is the crowd. The crowd reacted more to the classics as with any gig, but I don’t think this is to the detriment of the new album. It’s just because they can’t sing along with all the high notes.

Towards the end of the gig we are given an early Christmas present when guitarist/demi-god Johnny Marr joins THE CHARLATANS on stage. At this point the gig takes the shape of a competition between Marr and Burgess to be the centre of attention. Marr is victorious. THE CHARLATANS seem to me to be a little below par, but as I can’t stress enough, Wembley Arena has less atmosphere than space. I don’t know whether it’s the crush getting into the standing area that squeezes the life out of the crowd, or because the majority of people are craning their necks round in seats that are facing the wrong way. I digress. I just felt they had a little more to give than they did. The band still have a rock’n’ roll swagger about them and their sound is as ever progressive and innovative. Poncy suede caps off to the boys.