Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Teenage Fanclub at the Croxton Hotel, 9 March

Before I get into the concert proper, some preparatory remarks. This version of the Fannies were playing without their long-term bass player Gerry Love, who left the group. That means all of the amazing songs he brought to the band would not be played. There would be no Sparky’s Dream, no Ain’t That Enough, no Save or Falling Leaves and a bunch of other great tunes. Bummer. What’s left of the group are touring to promote their latest album portentiously titled Nothing Lasts Forever. Farewell tour? We’ll have to wait and see. I’ve listened to the album a couple of times and don’t think it’s one of their best. Double bummer (there are some good tunes, mind). Last time I saw them was at the Corner Hotel, Richmond, back in 2016, so it’s been a while, a couple of albums ago. In that interim I’ve had to get hearing aids for hearing loss, and music doesn’t sound the same for me anymore. Final bummer. So, with all that out of the way, on to the review…

It’s a bloody hot day in Melbourne, but that doesn’t stop a capacity crowd from coming out to see the Fannies. The warm up, listed as ‘special guest’, turns out to be the band’s keyboard player doing a solo spot. All I get is that he’s from Wales and he plays a couple of dinky tunes on his piano. This is a long way from the first Fannies gig I attended at the Prince of Wales, where the support was You Am I. I leave the sparse crowd after my first beer and head for the nearby Mexican restaurant for a meal. When I come back the place is full up. I knew this would happen but don’t really care. I make my way to the side bar and mistakenly order a pot rather than the pint of beer I want. It turns out to be a good idea in the end, as I have to drive home and don’t want to be holding a beer glass through the entire concert, which would happen if it were a pint. I settle in to the crowd behind a couple of nice younger ladies, which requires me to stand with my hands behind my back to avoid inadvertent ‘touchies’. I look around me. The punters are anywhere from twenties to, well, as old as me. They all look good to me, they are all Teenage Fanclub fans. I bask in the warm glow of being among my people.

Without fanfare the lights go down and the band come on. Guitarist and lead singer Norman Blake stands centre stage, as he is usually wont to do. He seems to have put on a few extra kilos since last we met (mmm, haven’t we all!) but still sports a full head of cleanly cut hair. He wears glasses and has dispensed with the beard that used to be his trademark. Lead guitarist Raymond McGinley stands to his right. Thin and taller than Norman, but with much less hair, though also wearing glasses. The other guys, on bass, drums and keyboard remain anonymous and do their jobs competently.

First song is About You, the fiery opener from Grand Prix, made all those years ago. Maybe it’s because of my hearing aids, or maybe just a bad sound mix, but it sounds very muddy. I can hardly hear what Norman is singing. I wonder what my younger, non-hearing aid attached brethren are hearing. Anyway, the song finishes and we’re into the concert. The sound quality picks up a bit (sound man doing his job?) and I settle in for a mostly enjoyable round of classic (and not so classic) Fannies tunes.

This is the point where I have to admit I think Teenage Fanclub are a fairly boring band live. I’ve seen them so many times, from the Prince of Wales (twice) and the Venue in St Kilda, to the HiFi Bar in central Melbourne, to the Corner Hotel in Richmond, and they’re all about just presenting the songs, no frills, no rock star poses, no pyrotechnics. Which is enough. They stand and fall on their songs. And tonight, for me at least, there are too many new songs from an average album, and not enough classics. And there’s the issue of no Gerry songs. So, while I’d say I enjoy the gig, I feel it’s not one of their best.

Norman does some between song banter, telling us something about toenail clippings, to which Raymond apologises. I have trouble hearing his thick Scottish accent. Then he launches into some acapella singing which introduces the song Did I Say, the first genuinely blissful moment of the night for me. First, I don’t think I’ve ever heard them do this song live before, and second, it’s one of my favourites: a beautiful extra track from the band’s one and only compilation album. A little later, they do another favourite, I Don’t Want Control of You, from Songs From Northern Britain, my favourite Fannies album. I sing along with a number of others. Another nice song, Raymond’s Only With You, with its sparse piano dynamics, gets a bit drowned out in the talk around me.

A little later they do My Uptight Life, from Howdy. It’s the one that ends with Raymond repeatedly singing ‘All my life I’ve felt so uptight, now it’s all alright’ almost acapella. I think the crowd are supposed to join in at this point, but typical crappy Melbourne audience, they don’t. It’s a different story when they finally launch into The Concept, though. The crowd finally comes to life and it’s singalongs all round. Then Raymond goes into THAT guitar solo, playing it pretty much note for note with the original. He knows you don’t mess with perfection, one of the finest guitar solos in all rock music. To my surprise, they add the extended coda that’s on the album, Bandwagonesque. I’m not sure if I’ve seen them do that before, but it sounds damn fine. They bring the song to a satisfying close and it’s exit for a brief break and the encore.

I don’t know why, but during the encore they do yet another song from the new album, which brings down the energy levels. People start shouting songs they want to hear. One guy yells Star Sign, but he’s got no hope. It’s a Gerry Love song. I think about yelling Planets, but I know it’s in vain. They’re gonna play what they wanna play. Norman informs us they will now do the very final song, which turns out to be the first song they released, the epic Everything Flows. It brings the night to a satisfying close, but I can’t help wondering if I’ll ever see them live again. If not, thanks guys for all those fantastic songs and albums.

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