A quick look at Setlist.fm – and I can heartily recommend this site, dubbed ‘the setlist Wiki’, for a fan-generated database of gig setlists from the past 30 years – shows that The Charlatans changed the order of their songs for their Manchester gig to start with Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over. Good move.
“I’m coming home –
You look good when your heart is on fire.
It’s a matter of taste, yeah!”
It certainly has the feel of a homecoming gig for a band which Manchester has claimed as its own, and the sold-out O2 Apollo is packed with die-hards.
The Charlatans released their tenth studio album, Different Days, in March 2017 and, when the title track kicks in, the grainy backdrop of 70s cine film makes it feel like it’s the theme tune to the best cop show never made. Probably starring James Garner.
The video backdrop provides some lovely moments throughout the night – at one-point author Ian Rankin appears like a Scottish Max Headroom on the set of Tron with some of the palm trees from the Outrun videogame. A minor technical hiccup sees the band leave the stage after the opener, but they return with the sunny funky Not Forgotten.
New tunes Spinning Out and Hey Sunrise provide a welcome chilled section to the set, sun-bleached images of West Coast America transporting us back to the 70s again. For all their indie bangers (From One To Another and The Only One I Know each get an outing tonight) the band isn’t afraid to ride the wave of goodwill in the venue to slow things down a little with a wrong-footing curveball or two.
For me, North Country Boy is the highlight of the night. With a crowd that must’ve kept several hundreds of babysitters in business tonight, watching early 90s footage of the young band onscreen will have invoked a keen sense of melancholy.
Tellin’ Stories was all cassettes, space invaders and tear-filled hugs – amplified further when the band was joined onstage for the encores (Over Again and the traditional closer, Sproston Green) by New Order’s Stephen Morris and A Certain Ratio’s Donald Johnson. Images of the sadly departed Jon Brookes and Rob Collins appear onscreen and an emotional night is complete.
Over the past three decades The Charlatans have averaged a studio album every three years – and it looks like they have no plans to slow down. The inspiration is still there and, judging by the reception from a sweaty beer-soaked Manchester crowd, so is the demand.
Images and review by Chris Payne