Joe Costello is at Birmingham Town Hall watching Teenage Fanclub.
The internet never forgets. And even if the event in question predates the creation of the internet, someone will probably add the details in order that the internet won’t forget. Teenage Fanclub are a band I have reached the stage that I have lost count of the number of times I have seen them. Some pre-gig online research revealed they were probably the first band I saw without the need to lie about my age, at the Barrel Organ shortly after my eighteenth in August 1990, mostly out of curiosity having heard comparisons with Dinosaur Jr and also because they were reported to be favourites of Kurt Cobain.
This proved to be the first of five live shows of theirs I attended in the space of eighteen months, amongst Burberries, where I bought the fetching and much missed t-shirt illustrated. There was also Coventry Poly, where me and my sister contrived to miss the last train home and spent the night in the reception area of the central police station to escape the cold January air while we waited for public transport to start up again, though we did bump into Norman Blake as we trudged and he gave us some wine.
Fast forward a decade and my first visit to the USA coincides with their tour and a trip to Chicago’s famous Metro, another two decades and seeing them headline at Moseley Folk festival persuades me to foolishly part with my ticket for a three night residency at the Institute, scheduled a couple of months later when they performed their Creation era back catalogue, to see younger, hipper acts performing on the same nights and probably with that went my last chance to ever see Is This Music? played live. You may remember this tune as the soundtrack to Goal of the Month on Match of the Day in the mid 1990s.
My reasoning was sound, I’d seen them plenty of times but didn’t realise this was to be a valedictory tour for bassist and co-songwriter Gerry Love who departed in 2018, a reluctance to continue to commit to long-haul flights fulfilling tour commitments at the root of the split, the -expanding to five in the process and now accommodating Euros Childs filling in the vocal gap left, augmenting the sound on keyboards. Two albums have followed since, a record and release rate not seen since their earliest days, admitting a more streamlined approach is responsible for this.
So that is their (and my) history, onto the present and a tour deliberately arranged to play seated venues only, a move that seems to have proved popular with the audiences. The show at the Town Hall was the only one not to sell out and it’s perhaps easy to see why, the grungier sounds of thirty years ago gradually giving way to close harmonies and melody in the intervening years, better for tapping the feet in comfort to than joining the moshpit.
They begin with Tired of Being Alone from their latest and twelfth studio album Nothing Lasts Forever. Predictably, this is the best represented album over the next hour and a half but the vast majority of the material played is culled from all points in the preceding thirty years, an agreeable mix of standards and surprises. There is little in the way of between song chat, the music is enough though Norman does announce he has treated himself to some new plectrums that day.
As enjoyable as it, I can’t help thinking it’s lacking a little something, and the Gerry Love penned songs are the missing ingredient, the likes of Sparky’s Dream and Star Sign being mainstays of their setlist for many years and it’s a shame to think they may never see the light of day in a live environment again. However, there are enough cuts from the landmark Bandwagonesque as well as traditional show closer and first single Everything Flows to make this a minor quibble.
On arriving at the Post Office Vaults for a post-show pint at a pleasingly early hour as a result of the early stage time, they are pIaying Nirvana and we come full circle.