Iconic alternative rockers The Charlatans celebrated their 31st anniversary in Cambridge, at the Corn Exchange, on Friday, December 3.
I’d waited decades to see them live and it was well worth the wait. Four members of the band came out first and took their positions as a giant video screen showed footage of the group over the years – including sadly deceased former members Rob Collins and Jon Brookes.
Singer Tim Burgess then came out holding his phone aloft, filming the crowd, amid loud cheers to join bass player Martin Blunt, guitarist Mark Collins, keyboard player Tony Rogers and drummer Pete Salisbury.
The word ‘forever’ was highlighted in text shown on the screen and it was the song which kicked off the set. It was followed by the excellent Weirdo and Can’t Get Out of Bed. Burgess, whose effortless charisma and hypnotic dance moves captured the attention throughout, dedicated the groovy Then to “all the people in the balcony” and You’re So Pretty – We’re So Pretty to “all the pretty people”.
He announced that it was Friday night and told the crowd to put their hands in the air ahead of Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over, surely one of the greatest songs of the 90s.
The already electric atmosphere went up another notch on the following number, the blistering One to Another, and at that point I thought to myself that I don’t ever remember seeing the Corn Exchange quite so energised and ‘pumped’ – bordering hysteria, in fact.
Indeed, it seemed as though everyone in the balcony was dancing and singing along, while below in the packed stalls it appeared that the whole room was jumping up and down.
One of the unique things about The Charlatans is that much of their more recent material slots in perfectly alongside the massive hits from the 80s and 90s, and this was exemplified on the likes of Plastic Machinery (off 2017’s Different Days) and A Man Needs to Be Told (off 2001’s Wonderland).
The latter features some wonderful pedal steel guitar – commonly used in traditional country music, of course – and a great “ooo” musical refrain, which Burgess got the audience singing. He praised the crowd’s singing calling it “the best of the tour so far”.
After a few quieter moments, the energy level went through the roof once again during the breathtaking ‘triple whammy’ of The Only One I Know, North Country Boy and How High. This band certainly boasts some outstanding tunes in its repertoire, as if we needed reminding.
The quintet came back out and did a three-song encore, the highlight of which for me was Blackened Blue Eyes, which – like many of the group’s songs – includes a stunningly irresistible keyboard riff.
Watching the footage of The Charlatans over the years on the big screen was moving and poignant at times, but the overriding feeling was one of joy that this band has lost none of its potency and swagger. Who says rock ‘n’ roll is a young man’s game? I eagerly await the next time.
For more on The Charlatans, go to thecharlatans.net.