Written for Epigram
“There used to be windows over there”, proclaims singer and guitarist Norman Blake, pointing to the left-hand wall of Bristol Student Union’s Anson Rooms. But whilst the venue might have changed a bit over the years, Scottish alt-rock stalwarts Teenage Fanclub are still putting on poignant and glorious live performances almost three decades into their career.
Yet they do not merely rest on the laurels of bygone greatest hits. Indeed, from the off, Blake assures his audience that the set will be different to that played across town at The Fleece a few months ago, promising “we’ve even looked it up on Setlist.fm” to make sure. The set is pampered with gorgeous tracks from this year’s album Here, their tenth, alongside a plethora of old favourites.
Greeted by an eager mob of cheers, they kick things off appropriately with 1997’s ‘Start Again’. What is particularly unique about a Teenage Fanclub gig Is the way vocal duties are shared between their three songwriters – Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley. So when Blake finishes off the opening track (well, after he has told us about his underwear being in the washing machine backstage), Love begins the wonderful, dreamy ‘Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything’.
Perfectly democratically, McGinley then takes up the microphone for ‘Hold On’, the first track we hear from ‘Here’. Its chorus is bolstered by Blake’s harmonising vocals and Dave McGowan’s keys; if anyone needed evidence that their new material lives up to the high standard set by their extensive back catalogue, it is here in abundance.
But it is equally exciting that the band can make almost twenty-year-old tracks sound as fresh as their new material. The reason for Teenage Fanclub’s enduring brilliance is clear in the subtle beauty of ‘Your Love is the Place Where I Come From’ and its chorus laced with a gentle xylophone line.
The trickling opening bars of ‘Verisimilitude’ inspire the most enthusiastic response of the night thus far, surely allaying any doubts expressed as McGinley sings chorus line “I only hope the verse is good”. That is until ‘The Concept’, opening track to 1993’s Bandwagonesque, and final track of the main set, gets the entire crowd singing back to the band “I didn’t want to hurt you / oh yeah”. The swelling melody of the extended guitar solo marks this track out as a centrepiece of the night and its slow, drum fuelled breakdown mid-way through is truly a moment of triumph; Teenage Fanclub leave their audience begging for an encore.
And they duly return with a stunning quartet of tracks to round off the evening. Another Bandwagonesque track, ‘Star Sign’ is followed “by another one from our new album”, ‘With You’. Its silky, sultry, almost Durutti Column-esque intro and understated, ethereal keyboard section easily mark it out as highlight of the night.
After pulling off an impressive take on Grant McLennan’s ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ (b-side to single ‘I’m In Love’, out on 7” early next year), it is time for things to come to an end with one last song. Fulfilling the many requests that have been shouted throughout the evening, the set closes on the fuzzy, jangly and exultant ‘Everything Flows’, impelling a crowd singalong once more, and proof enough that tonight, the Anson Rooms is home to Teenage Fanclub’s Bristolian fanclub.